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October trial dates set for former Surgoinsville mayor, vice mayor

Jeff Bobo • Feb 10, 2009 at 12:00 AM

ROGERSVILLE — October dates have been set for the corruption trials of former Surgoinsville Mayor Hanes Cooper, Cooper’s daughter Robin Hoffman, and former Vice Mayor Charles Otis Lawson. Cooper, Hoffman and Lawson were arraigned Friday in Hawkins County Circuit Court. Cooper and Hoffman, who are co-defendants accused of misappropriating funds from the Surgoinsville Utility District, are set for trial Oct. 13. Lawson, who is charged with theft over $1,000 and three counts of official misconduct for crimes that allegedly occurred while he was vice mayor of Surgoinsville, is set for trial Oct. 26. All three are scheduled for pretrial conferences in Greeneville on Sept. 11. Cooper and Lawson are both represented by Rogersville attorney Larry Boyd, while Hoffman is represented by Johnson City attorney Tom Jessee. The town of Surgoinsville and the Surgoinsville Utility District both have a financial stake in the outcome of these cases. The Tennessee Comptroller audits that uncovered the alleged criminal activity in all three cases were requested by the respective boards, and they aren’t free. Surgoinsville was charged $20,000 for its audit, which resulted in the charges against Lawson. The Surgoinsville Utility District was charged $12,700 for the audit that resulted in charges against Cooper and Hoffman. The Comptroller’s Office is also prosecuting all three cases, and comptroller spokeswoman Roxanna Pierce said it’s not uncommon for the cost of the audits to be tacked on to restitution orders in the event of a conviction. “That’s a pretty steep bill for a little town like Surgoinsville,” Mayor Johnny Greer told the Times-News Sunday. “Hopefully they’ll let us make payments, but it’s still a tough lick to our budget. It’s absolutely unfair for the citizens of Surgoinsville to have to pay this bill, and we’re going to ask for restitution on it.” Cooper, 76, of 306 Church St., Surgoinsville, is a current member of the Hawkins County Commission and Surgoinsville Utility District board of directors. He served as mayor of Surgoinsville for approximately three decades, ending when he was defeated in the 2006 election by Greer. He is charged with 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 — all of which are related to alleged activities at the utility district. The comptroller’s report alleges that Cooper received a total of $65,525 in excess compensation. 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 is charged with 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 — also related to the utility district. The comptroller’s report alleges that Hoffman’s recorded hours on time sheets from the post office coincide with hours claimed on her Surgoinsville Utility District time sheets. She is also accused of helping her father bilk thousands of dollars from the water utility. Cooper and Hoffman both remain free on $30,000 bonds. Lawson, 60, of 1315 W. Main St., Surgoinsville, served on the Surgoinsville Board of Mayor and Alderman from 2002-06 and was vice mayor under Cooper after 2004. He is accused of taking a military surplus engine analyzer valued at $7,248 and a truck hitch valued at $300 — both of which had been donated to the town. One 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. Lawson also allegedly used his position as vice mayor to direct public works employees to take town vehicles to A&L Contractors for repairs and maintenance. Another count of official misconduct alleges that Lawson received a kickback for work performed on a town vehicle. Lawson remains free on $20,000 bond.

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