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Ex-Surgoinsville vice mayor accused of theft, misconduct

Jeff Bobo • Dec 9, 2008 at 12:00 AM

SURGOINSVILLE — Former Surgoinsville vice mayor Charles “Otis” Lawson was named in a four-part Hawkins County grand jury sealed indictment Monday accusing him of abusing his authority and stealing military surplus items that belonged to the town.

Lawson, 60, of 1315 W. Main St., Surgoinsville, reported to the Hawkins County Jail Tuesday evening to answer a sealed indictment warrant charging him with theft over $1,000 and three counts of official misconduct. He was released on a $20,000 bond.

The charges are the result of an investigation by the Tennessee Office of the Comptroller of the Treasury, which was conducted after newly elected Surgoinsville Mayor Johnny Greer reported several items of military surplus missing shortly after he took office.

The comptroller’s report released in October stated that between Jan. 1, 2006, and June 30, 2007, Surgoinsville received military surplus property valued at $872,580. As of the completion of the comptroller’s investigation, military surplus totaling $137,104 was still missing.

As for the theft indictment and one of the counts of official misconduct against Lawson, he is accused of taking a military surplus engine analyzer valued at $7,248 and a truck hitch valued at $300.

Lawson reportedly told investigators the engine analyzer and truck hitch were dumped in his yard by public works employees without his permission.

Public works employees denied dumping the items in Lawson’s yard. Available documentation indicates both items were picked up on the town’s behalf by Lawson and former police chief Dale Scalf on a trip to Jacksonville, Fla., and Scalf reportedly told investigators he had personally observed both items later located at A&L Contractors, a company co-owned by Lawson.

Another of the official misconduct counts against Lawson alleges that he concealed a conflict of interest from the town with intent to benefit himself or harm others through alleged repeated denial of his ownership interest in A&L Contractors.

The comptroller’s report states that on Aug. 9, 2004, Lawson asked the town attorney whether it would be a conflict of interest for a business he co-owned, A&L Contractors, to service town vehicles. According to records, Lawson was told that it would be a conflict of interest.

“Subsequent to receiving that legal advice, during the period of Jan. 11, 2006, through Aug. 3, 2006, the town of Surgoinsville paid A&L Contractors $4,590 for work done on town vehicles,” the report alleges.

Lawson is also accused of using his position as vice mayor to direct public works employees to take town vehicles to A&L Contractors for repairs and maintenance.

The third count of official misconduct alleges that Lawson received a kickback for work performed on a town vehicle.

The report alleges that Lawson required and received a kickback on a $170 town check for vehicle repair payable to “Randy’s Fabricating,” which ironically turned out to be a company allegedly fabricated by Lawson.

“In an interview of the purported owner of Randy’s Fabricating, he stated it was Mr. Lawson’s idea to create the fictional company and have him submit the invoice since it would be a conflict of interest for Mr. Lawson to submit an invoice for the work,” the report states.

Lawson allegedly second-endorsed the check, and according to the report, paid the purported owner of Randy’s Fabricating $20, keeping the remainder for himself.

Special prosecutor Chad Jackson from the comptroller’s office said the indictments handed down Monday reflect all the charges that will stem from the comptroller’s investigation.

The combined maximum penalty for all charges against Lawson would be 10 years in prison if he is found guilty.

Lawson, who served on the Surgoinsville BMA from 2002 through the end of 2006, turned himself in to the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office after the circuit court clerk’s office had closed Tuesday afternoon, and an arraignment date wasn’t set.

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