Drug Task Force high on overtime

Putnam Pit editor

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- When he was director of the 13th Judicial District Drug Task Force, Sgt. Bob Terry complained they could not confiscate and auction off private property fast enough to reimburse the city for overtime he authorized for himself and two other Cookeville officers assigned to the detail. Even when he collected overtime to work the auction selling confiscated private property, the money from the auction didn't make it to the city for seven months, and when it did it was an illegal payment.

According to records obtained by this newspaper under the state public records act, as of June 1998 the city was owed more than $22,000 for overtime run up by Terry and Officers Steve Taylor and Steve Randall.

Now that he is police chief, Terry is allowing the bill to grow faster than it did under his trough-sucking administration. But he has a way to keep the bill form growing any more.

According City Clerk Stephanie Miller, Terry has ordered her to not bill the Drug Task Force for the overtime until he says it's OK, thereby giving him carte blanche to assign officers without having to work within a budget without the outstanding balance due appearing on public records.

New records obtained by The Pit show that Miller last spring asked Terry and Putnam County to repay the city on a regular basis. But only two payments in nearly a year totaling $6,391.68 of the $22,000 have been made. In the meantime, Cookeville officers on the task force have been paid another $9,180.14 in overtime, raising the total due from $22,060 to $24,848.46 since Miller asked Terry to pay more frequently. In a letter to City Manager im Shipley, Terry said the money couldn't be paid until confiscated property was sold.

Meanwhile, District Attorney General Bill Gibson refuses to make public his records of how much property has been confiscated, whether it was sold at auction, how much money was made or where it went.

Although state law forbids money from drug forfeitures to be used to pay officers, the Drug Task Force apparently has no qualms about violating that statue to pay itself, and City Attorney T. Michael O'Mara is apparently not too worried about receiving illegal money.

"How do you know it's money from the forfeitures," O'Mara asked, apparently unwilling to believe Terry's own written confession. He said it would be at least four days before he could research the law, but he has not responded in three weeks.

The privileges of membership in the task force are not limited to overtime pay. A former informant told The Pit that agents skim drugs from evidence for their own use, and the most damning revelation was the informant's disclosure that the task force sets up innocent people to generate money for Gibson's slush fund while allowing some dealers to operate with protection.

The city council has at least one apologist for this corruption. During the Feb. 17 council meeting, Councilman Harold Jackson threatened to walk out because he did not want to hear anything bad about Cookeville or District Attorney General Bill Gibson.

He did not want to know that although the task force does not have enough money to repay taxpayers for the overtime its members put in for, Gibson had enough money to buy a car for informants who had no driver's licenses.

The informant also stated to The Pit that while Terry was putting in for overtime he kept golf clubs close at hand.

Jackson said he was not inclined to listen to tales of corruption from someone who never says anything good about Cookeville.

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