Charles C. Thompson II is a network news veteran, both as a founding producer of ABC's "20/20" and as Mike Wallace's producer at
CBS's "60 Minutes."
An experienced print journalist, Tony Hays' recent 20-part series on narcotics trafficking received an award from the Tennessee Press Association.More ↓Less ↑
SAVANNAH, Tenn. — A representative of Vice President Al Gore’s campaign,
Doug Hattaway, has been calling media outlets across west Tennessee
attempting to stop coverage of last week’s series of WorldNetDaily
reports detailing allegations of political corruption by Gore and his
close friends and supporters in Tennessee.
WMC-TV in Memphis and WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tenn. both shot interviews
with the reporters — and then killed the stories at the last minute
with no explanation.
Meanwhile Gore’s ally and supporter, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
Director Larry Wallace, is scouring the TBI in an attempt to locate
WorldNetDaily.com’s sources for its three-part series of reports.
In a search one official is describing as a “witch hunt,” Wallace is frantically trying to find out who released information about his and his agency’s long record of political favoritism. One Nashville, Tenn. television station (WTVF) aired a piece on Sept. 21, detailing
allegations chronicled in WorldNetDaily.com and including a rebuttal by Wallace denying the entire story.
Despite Wallace’s categorical denials, and the severity of the charges, WTVF reporter Scott Couch, by his own admission, didn’t think it was important or “necessary” to contact the WorldNetDaily.com reporters who penned the article. Yet Couch closed his piece with the statement: “But the bottom line is, anyone can have a website, and we do not know the motivations of these authors.” Couch told one of the authors that he “didn’t know how” to contact them, despite the fact that the reporters, Charles C. Thompson II and Tony Hays, have their email addresses on the WorldNetDaily.com website. WTVF News Director Mike Cutler later said, “that’s not right,” in describing the station’s failure to contact the reporters and seek their reaction to Wallace’s response.
Wallace’s statement to WTVF opens with a direct denial of Gore’s involvement in any criminal matters.
“The allegations that Vice President Al Gore either personally or indirectly asked me to intercede in or stop any criminal investigation involving his family or anyone else is a blatant lie,” said Wallace. “I have never spoken on the telephone with the Vice President in my entire life. Only once during my 8-year tenure as Director of TBI have I ever been in the presence of the Vice President, and that was when the Deputy Director and I, along with thousands of other Tennesseans, stood in a waiting line at a funeral home in Carthage, Tennessee to pay our respects on the death of his father, Al Gore, Sr.”
Although Wallace claims he had “never spoken on the telephone with the Vice President in my entire life,” according to several former and current secretaries at TBI headquarters, Wallace received calls on numerous occasions from Vice President Gore, which they routed to his office. Former Deputy TBI Director and now assistant district attorney Jeff Long confirms that he was privy to one such phone conversation when Gore called Wallace. And Wallace’s statement also stands in contrast to veteran Tennessee politician and former U.S. Senator Harlan Mathews’ on-the-record comments to a WorldNetDaily.com reporter that “Gore and Wallace were close friends and political allies.”
In the next part of his rebuttal, Wallace said: “Additionally, TBI does not now, nor have we ever had a drug investigation or any other type criminal investigation open on Mr. Whit LaFon. A search of TBI indices only mentioned his name one time, and that was in 1964 where he was listed as a victim of a burglary.”
None of WorldNetDaily.com’s articles claimed that the TBI was part of the investigation of retired state judge Whit LaFon, Vice President Gore’s uncle. What was stated was that Wallace had complained to his top aides that the vice president had “put the arm on him” to help his [Gore's] “crooked [expletive] uncle.”
In reference to allegations that he spiked a major drug probe in the Cookeville, Tenn., area, Wallace notes that “the FBI was the lead agency and asked that the ‘case be put on hold.’” Wallace added, “To understand the lies of Howard Morris’ [one of WorldNetDaily's sources], you must review the disciplinary and performance problems in his personnel file.”
Actually, law enforcement sources throughout the state, including former TBI agents Jeff Long and Milton Bowling, call Morris “one of the best undercover men in the state.” While Wallace refers to Morris’ personnel file, he cites no examples or specifics. Morris fell out of favor with Wallace when he testified before a state legislative panel about problems with the TBI’s drug enforcement.
According to Wallace, he was not responsible for seeking dismissal of an indictment against former Shelby County Mayor Bill Morris.
“The investigation of Bill Morris, Garner Branch, and Bobby Lanier was a joint investigation of the TBI and State Comptroller’s Office,” said Wallace in his rebuttal statement. “A parallel investigation was conducted by investigative reporters with the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Morris and two other Shelby County officials were indicted as a result of this investigation. The charges against Morris were dropped by Special Prosecutor Roger Moore.”
What Wallace’s denial does not mention is as interesting as what it does. Wallace does not deny the existence or the killing of the Hardin County drug investigation detailed in the
third part of
WorldNetDaily.com’s series, nor does he respond to the allegations concerning his participation in the widely-publicized and flagrantly racist “Good Old Boys Round-up.”
Wallace also ignores allegations dealing with the mishandling of evidence in preparation for a visit by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, or CALEA. New evidence now shows that CALEA had been made aware of improprieties at the TBI as early as March 1995 by journalist Robert Lesmeister. Copies of letters on CALEA letterhead show that Stephen Mitchell, described as a program specialist, entered Lesmeister’s complaints in the TBI’s file and forwarded copies to Wallace.
The journalist, then managing editor of American Firearms Industry, had written to Wallace in September 1994 to question him about allegations that “the TBI has been engaged in hampering the investigation of the judicial system within the county [Warren Co., Tenn.].” The investigation concerned allegations that a Warren County judge took a $6,000 bribe and tampered with or altered driving records. Lesmeister queried Wallace about illegal wiretaps initiated by the TBI as well as attempts by TBI Deputy Director Robert Reeves to discredit the officer conducting the investigation. TBI General Counsel David Jennings, now on the CALEA payroll as a consultant while he is still employed by the TBI, replied to Lesmeister a week later, threatening legal action “should your organization or publication print any false statements or allegations about the TBI or its employees.”
TBI program manager Steve Mitchell, when contacted by WorldNetDaily.com for the earlier article, confirmed that he had spoken to Wallace and Jennings and that they had admitted to destroying evidence without court orders. Former TBI Agent Milton Bowling also confirms the destruction of evidence, noting that one of his cases, against a major marijuana grower, was placed in jeopardy.
“If the guy had decided to fight, I would have lost. I had absolutely no evidence to prove that he was guilty,” Bowling said.
Wallace also did not speak to the allegations by numerous agents of his personal cowardice. In a 1996 incident, reported by the Atlanta Constitution, a man entered the parking lot at TBI headquarters and began firing randomly into cars. Agents rushed to disarm the man and quickly placed him under arrest. Senior agents found Wallace hiding under his desk.
As reaction to WorldNetDaily.com’s series filters through Tennessee, even more cases of TBI corruption are arising, including allegations that Wallace killed a criminal investigation of Peaches Simpkins.
Members of the TBI Medicare fraud unit began probing reports in 1996-1997 that Deputy Gov. Peaches Simpkins had enriched herself by being on the boards and acting as a consultant to companies that were dependant on TennCare, Tennessee’s failed health-care program, while she was in office.
Senior TBI officials have told WorldNetDaily that Wallace was often seen in Simpkins’ office or that she was in his. Married to Irby Simpkins, publisher of the now-defunct Banner newspaper in Nashville, Peaches Simpkins oversaw Sundquist’s 22-member cabinet and sizeable staff.
She was involved in all major policy and legislative decisions, especially the festering $3.3 billion statewide health insurance program, TennCare, that would lead to her political demise.
According to financial documents filed in a divorce action against her husband this year, Mrs. Simpkins alone made $416,964 in 1995, during her first year as deputy governor. She earned $77,548 in salary from the state; $242,413 in rental income, and $82,738 from partnerships and director’s fees. In 1996, her second and final year in government, she earned $487,414. $87,839 came from her state salary, and $88, 249 came from partnerships and director’s fees. Most of the rest came from rental income.
Investigators say they identified at least two companies associated with TennCare from whom Simpkins allegedly received some of those partnerships and director’s fees.
One was Women’s Health Partners Inc., a company buying up obstetrics-gynecology practices in Tennessee and Kentucky. The other was a day-care franchise operation located in Knoxville and Chattanooga.
The investigation was abruptly terminated before a criminal presentation could be made to the U.S. Attorney in Knoxville, allegedly on the orders of Larry Wallace. However, word of the probe leaked, and Simpkins resigned. Repeated attempts to reach her for comment failed. She is now vice chairman of Women’s Health Partners. The company declined to provide any financial information about Simpkins.
Press statements from Sundquist’s office made it appear that Simpkins did nothing more than have an appearance of a conflict of interest, but agents say that her alleged transgressions were much worse than that.
Ironically, Sundquist had attempted to weaken the conflict-of-interest provisions in the TennCare program days before the Peaches Simpkins matter became front-page news. He backed off, saying that his timing wasn’t great.
Even though Simpkins was forced to resign, the termination of her criminal investigation allegedly earned Larry Wallace plaudits from the Sundquist administration.
Letter-writing campaign A 1998 Associated Press story by Phil West detailed how Wallace mounted a campaign to discredit TBI Director John Carney, who was scheduled to be reconfirmed as director in 1992.
Wallace encouraged three TBI agents and one of their spouses to send anonymous letters to the panel selecting the TBI director.
Agent Milton Bowling, one of the letter writers, said Wallace promised him and the other agents promotions if he was selected to be TBI director.
Bowling said he and another agent, Shana Roberts, took their drafts to Larry Wallace’s home for him to read and approve before they were mailed.
“Several times he (Wallace) told us to make sure and `destroy’ the original letters and send only copies of them,” Roberts said.
Bowling said he believed Wallace wanted the letters destroyed “to make sure his fingerprints could not be found on any of the actual letters sent.”
“If I had known at the time about how Larry Wallace encouraged the letter-writing campaign against me, I might have won,” Carney recently said.
When Wallace sought reappointment in 1998, a blue-ribbon panel was not allowed to hear the testimony of former TBI directors Arzo Carson and John Carney, who were prepared to detail many of the allegations mentioned in WorldNetDaily.com. The panel recommended Jeff Long for the position, but Sundquist ignored their wishes and reappointed Wallace.
Wallace also allegedly manipulated events in the A. Ray Mills case in Shelby County, Tenn. (Memphis). Between 1991 and 1994, Mills, chief deputy with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department, sold at least six jobs with the county for $3,500. In a seventh instance, he sold a special deputy’s position for $4,500. The TBI investigation, led by two young agents, Johnny Simmons and Sam Bowman, was hampered from its outset by Wallace’s interference. Although the two agents worked the case diligently, the rug was pulled out from under them just as they were leaving the office to interview a critical witness. Wallace had ordered the case dropped.
Bowman drove to Nashville and spoke with veteran agent Bill Thompson about the Mills case. He told Thompson, a highly decorated agent who was his mentor, that he hadn’t joined the TBI to become a crook. The agent then turned in his badge and gun and resigned. He is now a law student at the University of Memphis. The Mills case was ultimately picked up by the FBI. He was indicted in 1996 and convicted in 1998.
In another instance, several days after Wallace took office in October 1992, about 20 TBI and Internal Revenue Service agents raided the B&S Grill on Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga. According to agents who raided the B&S, it was a well-known gambling establishment, which laid off large sports bets to Chicago and Las Vegas. The club owner later pleaded guilty to federal income tax evasion charges and went to prison.
TBI agents say that H.Q. Evatt, then-sheriff of Hamilton County (Chattanooga), on more than one occasion was seen in the establishment receiving white envelopes. An informant swore that each envelope contained several hundred dollars. Evatt, a key backer of Wallace’s successful candidacy to become TBI director in 1992, was allegedly livid and phoned Wallace in Nashville to complain that he had not been forewarned of the raid.
Wallace then contacted Richard Brogan, TBI’s special-agent-in-charge in Chattanooga, and told him to meet with Evatt and placate him. Other agents said Brogan did this. Evatt denies talking with Brogan or taking bribes, but says the TBI agreed to notify him of any future raids or investigations in his county. Wallace and Brogan refused to comment.
Wallace went even further, ordering his agents never to open an investigation in any of Tennessee’s 95 counties without first notifying the county’s sheriff, if the sheriff was the target of the investigation.
Rank-and-file agents and their supervisors, who had previously sent 35 Tennessee sheriffs to prison, were outraged.
“We were hamstrung. There was no way we could investigate a crooked sheriff anymore,” one supervisor said.
Not satisfied with this restriction, Wallace abolished the TBI’s highly regarded public corruption unit shortly after the Chattanooga raid.