LAFOLLETTE, TN (WLAF) – Veteran LaFollette City Councilmember Ann Thompson is facing 36 felony counts following an indictment by a Campbell County Grand Jury.
Her charges include 34 counts of wiretapping and electronic surveillance and two counts of official misconduct.
Thompson, a longtime critic of her fellow elected officials, stands accused of placing a tape recorder under a conference table in the city council chambers. The recorder captured approximately 34 conversations from Jan. 29 until Feb. 12 before working its way loose and falling to the floor during a community prayer meeting. Tennessee is a one party consent state, meaning that as long as one person is aware a recording is being made no laws are being broken. That is not the case for Thompson who allegedly hid the recorder under the table using Velcro, according to previous WLAF News stories.
In the commission of her alleged acts, she invaded the privacy of a host of city employees and officials. Of the many recordings are conversations that include LaFollette City Administrator Jimmy Jeffries speaking to a number of city employees at different times, a conversation between Jeffries and Terry Sweat, city finance administrator, as well as Councilmember Bill Archer talking with city employees, according to the indictment.
Thompson’s arrest came after a lengthy investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. The recorder revealed itself in February when it fell from beneath the table. When the recorder was revealed, Jeffries alerted the TBI; the indictment didn’t happen until Wednesday. In May, councilmembers openly questioned the status of the TBI’s investigation. At that time, Thompson was the sole outlier who hadn’t been interviewed. She said “scheduling problems” had stalled her interview with officials.
Thompson had been a favorite with voters in the November 2018 election garnering the most votes of the six contenders. She has also been an outspoken opponent of her fellow councilmembers, Mayor Mike Stanfield and several city employees. On more than one occasion, this resulted in a counterattack from these groups with Thompson’s husband, Nick, often jumping to her defense in public forums.
After news of her arrest broke early Thursday afternoon, Stanfield offered his standard response to a city official being indicted, “I hate it happened,” he said.
This is the third councilmember to be indicted while Stanfield has been mayor.
In 2016, Councilmember Hansford Hatmaker was arrested in a countywide narcotics round up. He was charged with selling narcotics, but later pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of casual exchange of a controlled substance. He was placed on 11 months, 29 days probation and ordered to pay court costs. He retained his seat until the next election when voters replaced him. Throughout his proceedings Hatmaker, who had served as vice-mayor, insisted he had been set up.
In 2018, Joe Bolinger, another councilmember and vice mayor, was busted in a sting for the misuse of food stamps. He was alleged to have been buying soft drinks for pennies on the dollar from people who had purchased the drinks with food stamps. While Bolinger initially faced multiple charges, in the end he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit food stamp fraud and fraudulent receipt of food stamp assistance. His sentence was judicial diversion, unsupervised probation of one year and a $500 fine. Bolinger also remained on the council until voters had their say in the November 2018 election.
“It’s just the crooked side of politics,” Stanfield said when pressed about yet another indictment of a LaFollette City official.
Under the city charter, a councilmember can only be unseated if the crime they are accused of results in a felony conviction.
“This could end her political career,” Stanfield said of Thompson. “People don’t forget.”
Stanfield speculated Thompson had lodged the recorder until the table in hopes of catching officials violating the Sunshine Law. Under the Sunshine Law officials are barred from meeting in secret in order to discuss or make decisions that affect the general public. Violation of the Sunshine Law is not a criminal offense but can land an official or governing body in civil court.
Thompson’s pending criminal charges carry from one to 12 years in prison per counts along with monetary fines of $3,000 per charge.
Thompson was booked at the county jail and later released on a $20,000 bond. She is scheduled to appear in court on Oct. 14. (WLAF NEWS PUBLISHED – 10/04/2019-6AM)