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Indictments charge former Surgoinsville mayor, daughter with theft, corruption

Jeff Bobo • Dec 9, 2008 at 12:00 AM

SURGOINSVILLE — Former Surgoinsville Mayor Hanes Cooper and his daughter Robin Hoffman reported to the Hawkins County Jail Tuesday afternoon in answer to several theft and corruption charges that were handed down Monday in Hawkins County grand jury sealed indictments.

Cooper is a current member of the Hawkins County Commission and spent four decades on Surgoinsville’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen, mostly as mayor ending in 2006.

But the charges leveled by the grand jury Monday relate to his alleged activities as a member of the board of directors for the Surgoinsville Water Utility, which operates independent of town government.

Cooper is a member of the SWU board of directors and until last week served as the water district’s de facto general manager. Cooper was stripped of his power to run the day-to-day operations of the SWU during a water board meeting last week.

Cooper, 76, of 306 Church St., Surgoinsville, was indicted Monday on charges including money laundering, theft over $10,000, forgery over $10,000, conspiracy to commit forgery over $10,000, conspiracy to commit theft over $10,000, and two counts of official misconduct.

The most serious of the charges is money laundering, a Class B felony that carries a penalty of eight to 12 years in prison. The combined maximum penalty for every charge Cooper faces adds up to 38 years in prison.

The charges are the result of a state comptroller’s investigation into the SWU. Cooper is accused of receiving more than $65,000 in unlawful payments from the water utility between April 1, 1998, and Dec. 31, 2007.

Hoffman, 42, also of 306 Church St., Surgoinsville, is a part-time employee at the water district and also works at the Surgoinsville Post Office. She was indicted Monday on charges of money laundering, theft over $10,000, forgery over $10,000, conspiracy to commit forgery over $10,000, conspiracy to commit theft over $10,000, and official misconduct.

Cooper and Hoffman were released on $30,000 bond each after being booked into the Hawkins County Jail Tuesday afternoon. They are scheduled for arraignment in Hawkins County Circuit Court on Feb. 2.

The report by the Tennessee Office of the Comptroller of the Treasury released in October alleges that between April 1, 1998, and Oct. 31, 2003, Cooper received payments from the SWU “in excess of his lawful compensation” totaling $30,310.

“Sometime in late 2003 a customer of the utility district apparently questioned district personnel regarding Mr. Cooper’s excess compensation,” the report states. “Subsequent to the customer’s inquiries, Mr. Cooper apparently directed that future payments be made to his daughter, Robin Hoffman.”

The comptroller’s investigative report alleges that between Jan. 1, 2004, and Dec. 31, 2007, Hoffman received payments totaling $35,215.

The report further alleges that although Hoffman signed time sheets, the investigation revealed that she only worked for the water utility on rare occasions and “certainly not with the frequency indicated by her monthly time sheets.”

The comptroller’s report alleges that Hoffman’s hours on time sheets from the post office coincide with hours claimed on her utility district time sheets.

“Ms. Hoffman endorsed the backs of district checks issued to her, cashing most and turning others over to her father for his endorsement and deposit, or to be cashed by him,” the report alleges. “It appears that in order to conceal the continued unlawful payments, Mr. Cooper devised and directed a scheme by which fraudulent payroll payments were made to his daughter so that she could pass the proceeds on to Mr. Cooper.”

The comptroller’s report alleges that Cooper received a total of $65,525 in excess compensation.

Special prosecutor Chad Jackson from the comptroller’s officer presented evidence against Copper and Hoffman to the grand jury Monday. Jackson told the Times-News Tuesday he couldn’t comment specifically about either case except to say the indictments returned Monday reflect all charges pending against Cooper and Hoffman from his office.

“It is the responsibility of the comptroller to maintain accountability and transparency in government, and it is of the utmost importance that government corruption cases are dealt with professionally and resolved in an expeditious manner,” Jackson said.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation also participated in the investigation.

The investigation came about as a result of allegations of missing military surplus from the town of Surgoinsville after Cooper was defeated in the 2006 mayoral election and replaced by current Mayor Johnny Greer.

When some of the military surplus was found at the water utility, investigators began focusing on the SWU as well.

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