Relying upon claims from an ex-wife with a criminal history, three anonymous sources, and two unproduced documents they claim to have seen but refuse to reveal, the Knoxville News Sentinel published a story written by two Nashville-based reporters on Friday titled “Sources: FBI asks questions about Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett; mayor says ‘no truth to any of it.’”
Burchett, who is term-limited in his current job, is a candidate for the Republican nomination for the Second Congressional District in the election to replace retiring Rep. John “Jimmy” Duncan (R-TN-02), where he faces a hard fought battle against State Rep. Jimmy Matlock (R-Lenoir City).
Friday’s article was written by Dave Boucher and Joel Ebert, two Nashville-based reporters at The Tennessean, which is part of the USA Today-Tennessee network that now includes The Knoxville News Sentinel and The Memphis Commercial Appeal.
“Four people tell the USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee federal agents have asked them questions about Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett,” Boucher and Ebert wrote in the article, adding:
Allison Burchett [Tim Burchett’s ex-wife] said she began working with the FBI in 2012 but declined further comment.
“I’m sorry I cannot comment on an ongoing FBI investigation,” she said.
The three other sources requested anonymity for fear of reprisals.
As WBIR reported in May, Burchett’s ex-wife Allison Burchett “was charged with seven felonies, including six identity theft charges and one tampering with evidence charge, as well as six misdemeanor charges of computer crimes. Prosecutors agreed to drop the seven felony charges in exchange for a guilty plea to the six misdemeanors.”
The Star reported more of the back story in October, noting that one interesting donor to Tim Burchett’s opponent in the Republican primary in the Second Congressional District, Rep. Jimmy Matlock, is “Michael Strickland, CEO of Bandit Lites.”
Strickland has been dating Burchett’s ex-wife Allison for several years. (The Burchetts divorced in 2012.) Earlier this year Allison Burchett plead guilty to six misdemeanor charges for stalking and staging cyber attacks against Strickland’s ex-wife, Jo Nicole Velasco Strickland.
Allison Burchett was sentenced to four years probation as part of a plea deal and is still the subject of a civil action being prosecuted by Mrs. Strickland against her and Michael Strickland for conspiracy, identity theft, invasion of privacy and libel.
Strickland’s donation of $1500 to Matlock definitely raised eyebrows in Knoxville.
In addition to unsubstantiated assertions made by Burchett’s ex-wife with a criminal history and three anonymous sources, Boucher and Ebert point to two pieces of documentary evidence which they say they have seen but failed to include copies of in their article:
(1). “The USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee obtained a copy of a document drafted by an attorney that states Burchett’s ex-wife, Allison, was a confidential informant for the FBI, with the code name “Carbon,” since 2012.”
(2.) “The USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee obtained copies of a 2017 email exchange between an FBI agent and the attorney of one of the sources questioned this year. The attorney provided the agent documents and other records, according to the email.”
The first purported piece of documentary evidence –“a document drafted by an attorney”– appears to be the same document referenced in this WBIR report:
The FBI’s Knoxville field office told reiterated to Knoxville television station WBIR its long-standing policy of not confirming or denying the existence of any investigations. However, the Knox County District Attorney’s office told WBIR it found no proof when Allison Burchett made the same claim a few years ago as she faced criminal prosecution for stalking and cyber attacks.
“She claimed to be an informant, but nothing ever materialized to substantiate her claims. We successfully prosecuted and convicted her of six crimes of moral turpitude,” said Sean McDermott with the Knox County District Attorney’s office.
The WBIR story also noted that the claim of Burchett’s ex-wife that she was an FBI informant was contained in a draft court document that her legal counsel never filed.
In their Knoxville News Sentinel story, reporters Boucher and Ebert failed to produce a copy of that document and also failed to name the attorney who drafted the document, and whether it was a document verified for submission to a federal court.
An attorney who authenticates a false document and submits it to the FBI or to a federal court faces criminal charges and potential disbarment.
An attorney who drafts a document solely for the purpose of presenting it to a media outlet for review, but not publication, faces no such penalties if the document knowingly contains false information.
Mayor Burchett says he has not been contacted by the FBI and has no knowledge of any such investigation.
“The story is absurd,” Burchett told The Tennessee Star. “For nearly eight years, I have worked to restore trust in Knox County Government by increasing transparency, focusing on the proper role and scope of government and being conservative in the use of taxpayer dollars. It’s a shame to have my integrity and leadership called into question in a news story that relies on the words of my now-convicted ex-wife and other anonymous sources.”
“Until my office was contacted by a Nashville newspaper reporter, I was unaware of any alleged inquiry,” Burchett added. “In fact, I do not believe such an inquiry exists, and I ask the FBI to publicly state whether or not it does. I welcome any questions they or any other agency may have. This is clearly an effort by my political enemies to smear my reputation, and unfortunately the Tennessean has allowed itself to be used.”
“This strikes me as being fake news,” former Shelby County assistant district attorney Judson Phillips tells The Star, adding:
The Knox County District Attorney’s office pretty much shot the idea that she was an informant. One generally does not become an FBI informant for the fun of it. Typically one becomes an FBI informant to get leniency. If she was an informant for the FBI, they would have told the Knox County DA’s office and would have asked them to reduce her sentence.
Law enforcement carefully protects the identity of informants that are working. After all, if an informant’s cover is blown, they become useless and possibly subject to reprisals.
Another thing that really makes this look completely fake is that this document was drafted by a lawyer, presumably for a sentencing hearing, but was never filed. If the document was never filed, it is a part of the attorney’s file and it is confidential. It can only be released by the client or with the client’s expressed permission.
“With three anonymous sources and the ex-wife, who was convicted of six crimes of moral turpitude, this sounds like a whole lot of fake news,” Phillips concludes.
Here are the unsubstantiated assertions made by the three anonymous sources quoted in the Knoxville News Sentinel article written by Ebert and Boucher:
Federal investigators conducted several interviews this year, including as recently as October, sources said. The interviews were conducted in various locations, including the FBI’s Knoxville headquarters.
One source said an IRS agent also has been involved in the inquiry. . . .
One source, who is a Knoxville-based businessman, said he was questioned about a county contract.
Another source, also a businessman, said agents asked questions about Tim Burchett in addition to questions about a county contract.
Three sources said they anticipate the agents moving forward with their probe after the conclusion of the federal government’s case against Pilot Flying J. Some agents involved in the Pilot case questioned some of the people about Tim Burchett. . .
“I’m not sure what they’re charging, but it’s coming pretty soon,” one source said. “This is very, very serious. It’ll blow Knoxville wide open.” (emphasis added)
Not a single piece of corroborating evidence was presented to support these extraordinary claims.
According to his biography at The Tennessean Dave Boucher, “aims to balance the public initiatives that affect all Tennesseans with the colorful characters who create them.”
He takes on The Tennessean investigative reporter position after covering the statehouse in Tennessee and West Virginia, following stops in Western Kentucky and Michigan. His work has routinely appeared in and been cited by national media, and he’s been honored by the West Virginia and Kentucky press associations. He is a graduate of Northwestern University.
According to his biography at The Tennessean, Joel Ebert “covered politics in Illinois, South Dakota and West Virginia before coming to The Tennessean to report on the state’s General Assembly.”
In 2015, he helped provide daily coverage of the trial of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, who became the first chief executive of a major corporation convicted of a workplace safety crime. A graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago, Ebert is a student of Chicago politics whose work has been cited by national media. He’s received awards from the press associations in South Dakota and West Virginia.
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Editors Note: This is the first in a series of Tennessee Star Investigative Reports: “Is the FBI Asking Questions About Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett?”
The Star is asking anyone who may have documents or information that can shed light on this question to contact us immediately at [email protected]