Hamblen County Trustee John Baskette resigned – effective immediately – Friday afternoon.
That clears him of job-related criminal charges. It does not clear him of theft charges related to private business deals, according to District Attorney General Dan Armstrong.
Baskette’s attorney, Dandridge lawyer Richard Talley, characterized the private-debt charges as “nonexistent cases.” Armstrong declined to directly respond to Talley’s assessment.
The prosecutor did say that Baskette is scheduled to be arraigned in Hamblen County Criminal Court on the private-debt charges on Oct. 1.
“We have reached an agreement as to the charges relating to his time in office,” the prosecutor said. “The felony case involving the theft from private citizens remains ongoing … The grand jury returned an indictment for theft over $60,000. The grand jury found probable cause. We have statements from victims and we are in continuing contact with the victims.”
Armstrong says he can’t disclose the terms of the agreement until Baskette appears in court. Baskette will either plead guilty on that day to unspecified job-related charges or arrange to plead guilty on a date specific in the future.
One thing that is certain about the deal is that Baskette will be able to keep the retirement benefits he accumulated over nearly 20 years working as trustee and a teacher in the Hamblen County school system and at Walters State Community College.
Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain says the commission will convene at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 23 to appoint a replacement for Baskette, and that person will remain in office until August 2020.
Those interested in the interim appointment cannot apply for the job in the conventional sense. They must be nominated by a county commissioner.
Baskette tendered his resignation to Hamblen County Court Clerk Penny Petty at 2:50 p.m., 70 minutes before the plea offer expired. He directed the resignation letter to Petty.
“I am officially informing you that I will be resigning effective today, September 13, 2019, at the close of business day as Hamblen County trustee,” the letter states. “I have enjoyed working with you the past nine years. I wish you and the entire county the very best. Good luck in the future, and if I can ever help you again in any way do not hesitate to call me.”
For more, see Sunday's edition of the Citizen Tribune.