Audit: Claiborne County Principal Abused Employees for Personal Gain


A high school principal in Claiborne County abused his position and had school maintenance employees do a seemingly endless list of personal errands for him, according to a new audit.

Those personal errands even included the principal making those employees travel out of state, the audit said.

This happened at Claiborne High School in New Tazewell, according to the audit.

Members of the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office said they began investigating after school officials discovered and reported possible employee misconduct, missing funds, and operational deficiencies.

Among other things, the principal, who has since resigned, instructed a maintenance employee to drive his personal truck during work hours to Middlesboro, KY. for repairs, auditors wrote.

“The maintenance employee stated he left the school during his lunch period and drove the truck to Middlesboro, where he waited several hours at the dealership before the repairs were completed,” according to the audit.

The principal, auditors wrote, also used those employees to do the following, all at taxpayer expense:

• Haul cattle the principal owned to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville on three separate occasions.
• Burn brush on the principal’s farm during work hours. One maintenance employee worked two hours on the farm before he stopped due to rain.
• Go to the principal’s home to pick up mail and bring it to the principal’s office.
• Mow fields at the principal’s farm and on other farms as part of the principal’s side business.
• Take the principal’s tractor tire elsewhere for repairs.
• Take the principal’s hay roller to Virginia.

“Maintenance employees stated they felt pressured to perform the private work for the principal or they might lose their jobs,” auditors wrote.

“We confirmed one maintenance employee did not receive his rehire paperwork until it was provided by the director of schools on June 28, 2018, the day prior to the principal’s resignation. According to the school department administration, nonprofessional employees should have received rehire paperwork on May 8, 2018, for the 2018-2019 school year.”

Auditors also said the principal purchased merchandise for personal reasons from a vendor using the school department’s sales tax exemption, which violates state law.

The audit did not name the principal, but the Knoxville-based TV station WVLT said T.J. Sewell was the Claiborne High School principal during the time in question.

“On Wednesday, the Claiborne County Grand Jury declined to return an indictment on the principal,” the station reported.

County Director of Schools Joseph Miller told The Tennessee Star Thursday that he and other officials are working to make sure nothing like this happens again.

“On behalf of the school district and the school board, we’ve been very open and transparent about any information requested of us,” Miller said.

“We’re now working under more rigid and tighter controls. That is throughout our school district.”

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Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Claiborne County Courthouse” by Brian Stansberry. CC BY 3.0.

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One Thought to “Audit: Claiborne County Principal Abused Employees for Personal Gain”

  1. Robert McDaniel

    Corruption is king. Local, state and federal. A corrupt county like most thus, no indictment by the grand jury. We have become a banana republic.