The felony theft trial of John Baskette, which was scheduled to begin in Hamblen County Criminal Court on Thursday, has been postponed until Oct. 26, officials say.
Assistant District Attorney General Kim Morrison said this morning that Circuit Court Judge Alex E. Pearson and Richard Talley, Baskette’s defense attorney, signed a consent order delaying the trial without a formal motion to continue. The pending cases involve alleged theft that Baskette perpetrated in his private business dealings, not in his official capacity as trustee.
In August 2019, a Hamblen County grand jury indicted Baskette for theft over $60,000, an offense punishable by eight to 10 years in prison. Baskette borrowed large sums of money from several people and allegedly failed to repay the debts – sometimes with bad checks – as promised.
Law enforcement officials have described Baskette’s alleged pattern of wrongdoing as a Ponzi scheme, in which new investors were allegedly recruited to pay Baskette’s older debts.
Talley advanced the theory is that his client’s actions are garden-variety cases of writing worthless checks. Talley said in open court that Baskette has repaid most debts, and has every intention of repaying those who are outstanding. Talley maintains that bad-check charges are generally dismissed when the debts are repaid.
After Baskette was indicted in August 2019, additional bad-debt cases surfaced, and District Attorney General Dan Armstrong returned to a grand jury and obtained indictments for theft over $10,000 and theft over $2,500. Baskette allegedly wrote a worthless check for more than $29,000 to Keith Henegar and another to Choice Seeds for about $8,500.
Those cases are sent for trial in on June 29, about three months before the other case.
Morrison says Talley appears disinclined to combined the cases into one trial, so the distinct possibility exists that Baskette will face two felony theft trials this year.