A security guard at the new, ultra-modern Tennessee Bureau of Investigation headquarters used a wire coat hanger to steal 22 kilos of cocaine seized by the Tennessee Highway Patrol as evidence in a Dickson County, Tenn., narcotics case, according to high-ranking Tennessee Bureau of Investigation officials.
And fighting for his political life, TBI Director Larry Wallace, a longtime political ally of Vice President Al Gore, is pulling out all stops to keep the details of the incident out of the press.
Those same TBI officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, say Wallace, whose ongoing problems with securing evidence were detailed in earlier WND reports, has been calling in favors from all over Tennessee to keep the story from going public.
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation officials were unaware that the cocaine was missing until a Tennessee Highway Patrol officer arrived last week to pick up the evidence for trial. The TBI couldn’t find the cocaine or any record showing its disposition.
In an effort to track down the missing evidence, Wallace sent his agents out to sheriffs’ offices in the region asking whether TBI had loaned it to them for a sting operation. A law enforcement tip to reporter Scott Couch of WTVF-TV in Nashville led to a brief report of the theft on Jan. 6. WSMV-TV in Nashville ran a more detailed account on Jan. 9, based on a statement from Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spokesman Mark Gwyn.
But the TBI statement left out the method the guard used to gain entry to the evidence area, the actual amount of cocaine missing, the amount of cash seized, and the fact that the cocaine was evidence in a pending narcotics case. Confidential sources within TBI headquarters have provided WND with further details of the incident.
Arrested in the case was 27-year-old Jody Mark Tolar, an employee of a security firm subcontracted by Meridian Management of Florida. Meridian has a five-year contract with the state of Tennessee to provide security, custodial, maintenance and grounds care for TBI headquarters. Both Tennessee General Services Deputy Commissioner Ed Jones and Meridian Management refused to name the security firm, although Jones confirmed that the state had approved Meridian subcontracting the security for the building.
However, the state does not have a copy of the contract between Meridian and the subcontractor, U.S. Security.
Wallace, the TBI’s director since 1992, had lobbied the state legislature for the new facility for several years. Chief among his arguments for the $20.5 million appropriation was the inadequacy of evidence storage at their former location. Evidence had been stored in an old cafeteria, and TBI officials admitted to Commission on the Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies program officer Steve Mitchell that they illegally removed evidence from unsecured locations in order to pass the commission’s inspections.
Ignoring those admissions to Mitchell, CALEA renewed the TBI’s accreditation last August, about the same time that the new headquarters was opened. At that ceremony, on Aug. 31, 2000, Wallace called the building “the flagship of the criminal justice system in Tennessee.”
Despite those boasts, Tolar used a wire coat hanger to penetrate the allegedly “theft-proof” evidence vault. The guard allegedly gained entry through double-glass doors equipped with push-bars. The coat hanger was slipped between the doors and then hooked around the bar. Once pulled, the door opened with little effort. According to several Tennessee narcotics officers, the missing cocaine had a street value of $2 million or more.
An internal investigation led TBI agents to Tolar. According to the official TBI statement, agents obtained a warrant and searched Tolar’s home, locating some 8 kilos of cocaine and an undisclosed amount of cash. However, WND has learned that only 4 kilos were discovered and that agents seized some $88,000 in cash. The remaining 16 kilos are still missing.
The narcotics case has now collapsed for lack of evidence. Tolar is scheduled to appear in court tomorrow on drug conspiracy charges. Six other people have been arrested, but Gwyn declined to name them, although he noted that none of the six were employed by the TBI or the security firm.
In a black eye to the embattled law enforcement agency, spokesman Gwyn was forced to admit that a proper background check had never been completed on Tolar, who is under indictment in Nashville for reckless driving and a drug-related charge stemming from a March 17, 2000 arrest.
“We never received [a] background application on Tolar,” was Gwyn’s only excuse for the lack of a background investigation. Gwyn was also unable to provide the date that Tolar began working at the TBI building and whether he had clearance to be in the evidence area. Arrested with Tolar were six other individuals, but only one of those, Dustin Driver of Nashville, was charged with conspiracy as well.
This marks the second time in the last six months that reports of TBI losing evidence have surfaced. The other was the case of Johnny Moffitt, who was convicted of shooting his brother-in-law, Kenneth Waller, to death in 1989. Moffitt’s original conviction was overturned by the State Court of Criminal Appeals in Jackson, Tenn., in 1999, which ruled that the trial judge gave incomplete instructions to the jury and improperly excluded evidence that might have given Moffitt a viable alibi.
Moffitt refused a plea bargain arrangement in January 1999, maintaining his innocence and insisting that he was not guilty. Circuit Court Judge Roy Morgan ordered a new trial, but Moffitt agreed to the guilty plea last October because evidence that could have exonerated him was lost by the TBI — including the gun, his jacket and the casings allegedly from the gun used in the shooting. In yet another bizarre twist, after Moffitt consented to the guilty plea, it was revealed that the TBI had lost all of the evidence in the case and that a new trial would likely have resulted in Moffitt’s acquittal.
The incident is certain to further cloud Director Larry Wallace’s already cloudy future. After Wallace requested additional funding from the state legislature specifically for security measures in the new building, the theft of the cocaine may spur lawmakers to open an investigation of the agency, once a respected law enforcement agency and now having trouble securing its own headquarters.