Eleventh-hour discussions Wednesday afternoon between District Attorney General Dan Armstrong and Richard Talley, the lawyer representing embattled Hamblen County Trustee John Baskette, did not produce an agreement that would result in Baskette’s resignation, both sides confirmed.
“It’s a two-word response – not guilty,” Talley said.
Armstrong said the next step will be presenting the results of a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation criminal inquiry to a Hamblen County grand jury.
“I will always entertain calls from defendants and defendants’ counsel, but as far as I’m concerned we have no agreement and there is not going to be an agreement, and I’m going forward,” Armstrong said.
State law provides that prosecutors cannot charge an elected official with official misconduct on a warrant. Only a grand jury can charge an elected official with misconduct.
“I’m not saying that is the charge, and I’m not saying it’s the only charge,” Armstrong said. “There is not agreement, so I’m going to proceed with the case.”
The 2018 Hamblen County audit indicated that Baskette was responsible for non-criminal money-management violations. At that point, the state comptroller’s office launched a more detailed investigation.
The TBI initiated its own parallel criminal investigation when state auditors “reached a place in their investigation where they deemed it possible” there had been a “criminal-law violation,” the prosecutor said earlier.
Talley suggested that if TBI agents and comptroller’s office criminal investigators concluded Baskette has committed a crime, they made a big mistake.
“I’ve heard no allegation of any money missing, now or ever,” Talley said. “We’re prepared to vigorously defend any allegations that were made. That’s where we stand.”
Armstrong declined to comment on Talley’s assertions, but added, “I can call a grand jury at any time.”
If Baskette is indicted, it will not mean he will have to leave office, Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain said this morning.
“An ouster suit cannot be (filed) on the basis of an indictment,” Brittain said. “There has to be a conviction.”
If Baskette is indicted and found guilty at trial, he will lose nearly 20 years of accumulated Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System benefits, not just the benefits accrued while serving as trustee, Talley said. Baskette also worked for the Hamblen County school system and Walters State Community College.
Baskette would be able to recover his contributions, plus interest. He would lose employer contributions, which generally amount to about 9% of his wages.
While Baskette counters allegations of financial wrongdoing in his professional life, he’s also facing potential money-related challenges in his personal life, according to court documents.
Three people are suing Baskette, alleging he failed to repay personal debts.
Baskette’s personal-finance situation came to light in public after he was elected three years ago. A bonding company refused to issue a bond for him. Instead, unlike all other Hamblen County elected officials, he is covered only by an insurance policy.
The plan was to cover potential liability with both a bond and an insurance policy.