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Watch now: Turf going down at West Ridge, work to start at East next week

BLOUNTVILLE — Installation of artificial turf on West Ridge High School’s football field is expected to be completed today, Interim Director of Sullivan County Schools Evelyn Rafalowski said.

The work began on Monday. As of Thursday afternoon, only a portion of one end zone remained to be completed.

West Ridge is the first school in the county’s system to get artificial turf for its football field. But it won’t be alone long. The field at Sullivan East High School is to be retrofitted with artificial turf.

Rafalowski said the turf is expected to be delivered to East on Monday and installation will begin shortly after.

Installation of the turf is just one piece of a whirlwind of activity at West Ridge, but it’s a milestone and attention-grabbing amid what has for months been red clay dirt. The stadium and athletic field house are nearing completion.

Elsewhere on the school’s campus, tennis courts have just been paved and lighting is in place around the stadium, baseball field and tennis courts.

And inside furniture and other fixtures are beginning to fill what have been empty spaces.

The school is on target for an August opening.

“We’re thrilled for our kids, and our community and our coaches that we’re going to have our turf fields in and ready to go for football this fall,” Rafalowski said.

West Ridge will have about 1,900 students and a staff of approximately 200, Rafalowski said.

Turf for West Ridge wasn’t included in the project as originally bid, but it was added later along with turf for East.

The cost: architect fees for Sullivan East High School turf project, $69,900; architect fees for West Ridge High School turf project, $66,350; Sullivan East High School turf, $980,444.04; West Ridge High School turf, $1,136,205.

Former Mount Carmel mayor gets probation in $394K grandmother theft case

ROGERSVILLE — Former Mount Carmel mayor Chris Jones won’t serve any jail time for what a West Virginia Court described as a $394,000 embezzlement from his grandmother.

However, he does still have to pay $571,000 in restitution and damages from a civil judgement, and as of Thursday morning Jones is now a convicted felon.

Jones, 50, of Mount Carmel, appeared on Thursday in Hawkins County Criminal Court, where he took an Alford plea in two separate cases.

The first case related to the embezzlement from his grandmother. Jones was indicted in February 2020 on one count of theft over $250,000, a class A felony punishable by up to 25 years.

On Thursday Jones accepted a plea deal and pleaded to financial exploitation of an elderly adult, a Class D felony, in exchange for a sentence of two years on supervised probation.

The second case was Class E felony official misconduct related to a phony eviction notice Jones created using the official Mount Carmel town seal last year in an attempt to remove his girlfriend from his residence.

For that plea, Jones was sentenced to one year consecutive to the other case, for a total sentence of three years of supervised probation.

An Alford plea is not an admission of guilt, but an admission that based on the evidence it was likely that a jury would find him guilty. The end result is still a conviction.

Links to a lengthy list of older articles with more details about Jones’ background can be found in the online version of this article at www.timesnews.net

“There were some proof difficulties”

Although the theft took place in West Virginia, Attorney General Dan Armstrong said that state wasn’t interested in pursuing criminal charges. Because Jones funneled some of the stolen money through banks in Tennessee, however, it was possible for Armstrong to prosecute the case.

“It appeared to us the more proper venue would have been West Virginia, but when West Virginia declined to prosecute, we undertook an analysis of whether we could maintain a prosecution in Hawkins County,” Armstrong said. “We ultimately concluded that we could. Because of the work of the elder abuse committee that I serve on, we got the law changed where financial exploitation of an adult is easier to prove under the new law than the older law.”

Armstrong added, “There were some proof difficulties (with the original charge). There were difficulties because West Virginia had declined to prosecute. We think, given all that, and the fact that restitution has already been ordered through a civil judgment, we thought this plea was in the best interest of the state.”

Armstrong said he understands that the victims aren’t happy with the plea.

“I get that, but this case was not going to be prosecuted at all if it had been left up to West Virginia,” Armstrong added. “Mr. Jones is now a convicted felon, but he is also free to work and pay his restitution.”

The embezzlement allegations and civil case

Jones’ grandmother Marceline Carpenter died on Jan. 2, 2016, in a West Virginia assisted care center.

In March 2016, a lawsuit was filed in Randolph County (West Virginia) Circuit Court by Carpenter’s daughter Barbara Jo Long of Morristown (Jones’ mother), and two of Jones’ uncles, Robert Carpenter and Gary Wayne Carpenter, both of Junior, West Virginia.

The lawsuit alleged that Jones embezzled almost $394,000 from his grandmother’s estate in the final year of her life.

The lawsuit claims that Jones’ grandmother suffered from dementia toward the end of her life, was not competent to sign away her power of attorney or endorse checks, and was in a nursing home as of Feb. 5, 2015.

After failing to appear in court on the trial date in 2017, Jones was ordered by Judge David Wilmoth to pay his mother and two uncles a total of $571,569, of which $393,939 is compensatory damages; $131,313 is punitive damages; $6,200 is attorney fees; and $40,117 is pre-judgment interest. An additional 7% interest will be added annually for the unpaid balance.

In his ruling, Wilmoth stated, “The court finds defendant’s conduct reprehensible. Defendant continued in his actions of conversion and embezzlement from his grandmother for a period of approximately one year, draining nearly all of her assets over that time. Defendant must have been aware that his actions were causing, or were likely to cause, harm.”

“He drained her bank account”

Jones’ mother, Barbara Jo Long, told the Times News on Thursday that she and her siblings were highly disappointed with the plea agreement, and they wanted to see Jones go to trial.

“The (assistant district attorney) who handled the case didn’t contact us to say they had reached a plea deal, so all this was just total disappointment for what he had done,” Long said.

“We were devastated,” Long added. “We’ve been working on this in the courts of West Virginia, and then we had to get lawyers here in Tennessee, and he’s not even attempted to pay us a dime. I guess we’re going to have to go back to the Chancery Court and bring that up again.”

Long added, “He had the power of attorney, and he was too sorry to let me know my mother was in a nursing home. I didn’t know until they called and told me she had died.”

The facts behind the misconduct charge

Jones was arrested the night of May 28, 2020, and charged with domestic assault as a result of an altercation with his girlfriend, Amber Page Hale, 32. That charge was later dismissed.

A condition of Jones’ bond on that charge, however, was that he have no contact with Hale, whose legal address is the house on Hemlock Street in Mount Carmel that Jones rented from Carl Wolfe, who was an alderman at the time. As a result, Jones was effectively homeless.

Jones was accused of using the Mount Carmel town seal on a phony eviction notice that he gave to Wolfe to serve on Hall.

Jones was indicted the following July 29 on the felony official misconduct charge that he pleaded guilty to on Thursday. After this allegation arose, a writ of impeachment was drafted against Jones and Wolfe, and both subsequently resigned from the BMA.

Other pending legal problems

Jones was indicted by a Sullivan County grand jury in June 2020 on charges of felony criminal simulation and two counts of criminal impersonation. Those charges are still pending in Sullivan County Criminal Court.

He was accused of using a Mount Carmel police badge in an attempt to view Walmart surveillance video on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, 2020, on the pretense of conducting a stolen van investigation.

Although Jones is a former Mount Carmel police officer and detective, at the time he was mayor and was not a member of the police department.

Teresa Nelson appointed to general session's bench upon Judge Kline Lauderback's expected retirement
  • Updated

BLOUNTVILLE — The Sullivan County Commission voted on Thursday to appoint Teresa Nelson to fill the General Sessions Court Division 1 judgeship upon the expected June 30 retirement of Judge Klyne Lauderback. Nelson’s appointment means she will serve out the rest of Laudeback’s term, which was to expire on Aug. 31. 2022, and will have to run for election to keep the seat.

Nelson has worked in the Sullivan County District Attorney’s office as an assistant district attorney for more than 22 years, with areas of practice including major felony prosecution for the past 15 years.

Prior to joining the DA’s office, Nelson was in private practice and her areas of practice included defense law. Her experience also includes service as an instructor and adjunct professor at the college level and for local law enforcement agencies.

“The general sessions court is one of the most important courts in the county,” Nelson said. “The reason that it is, is because it is the gatekeeper. It is where the vast majority of our cases originate. They will see the general sessions judge and they will either move on to criminal court or they will be handled in general sessions court. And it is very important that the person who sits on that bench be able to listen to the cases, assess the cases, know the law, be able to make tough decisions, in tough environments. And I feel like my career as a prosecutor has allowed me to do that. I can say as a prosecutor, yes, we are attorneys. But a job as a prosecutor is uniquely different than any other law job. And the reason is because when you’re hired as a lawyer to represent someone, you are to advocate for that client, that is the job. As a prosecutor, our role is different. Our role is to seek justice, and justice can take many forms. Justice is to speak for victims. Justice is to prosecute those who violate the law, and to seek the appropriate punishment. But justice also can mean recognizing when someone hasn’t violated law. And it means standing up and saying ‘No, we’re not going to this.’ As a prosecutor, that’s what you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to be able to not only prosecute people who commit criminal law violations. You’re also supposed to protect the rights of those who are accused. It doesn’t mean turning a blind eye and advocating for a particular side with- out considering the other side. It means looking at both sides. And it means standing up for the rights of the victims, but also for the rights of the accused.”

Nelson was one of three who sought and were nominated for the job. The others were Timothy Horne and Jason Arthur.

Nelson won in the first round of voting, with 20 votes in her favor from the 23 commissioners present.

In other business on Thursday, the commission approved a resolution authorizing the county school system to spend $300,000 from within the system’s budget to buy “the Bishop property” near West Ridge High School’s main entrance off Lynn Road. The vote was 22 yes and two absent.

A resolution regarding the future use the Blount- ville Elementary and Blountville Middle schools property was introduced on first reading by its sponsors, meaning no vote and no discussion. It will be on the commission’s agenda for a potential vote next month.

Watch now: Jake's back, which means Amis Mill is about to get busy again

ROGERSVILLE — Big things are going to start happening again at the Capt. Thomas Amis Historic Site near Rogersville with the return of owner Jake Jacobs managing the grounds full time again.

His first official act of this new era for the property was to turn over the reins of the Amis Mill Eatery to past chef Kamran Aliabadi and his wife, Shannon.

With the eatery in good hands, Jake and his wife, Wendy, plan on dedicating themselves again to the promotion of historic tourism and preserving the Capt. Thomas Amis legacy and story through events and festivals.

You can find links to stories that describe in detail the history of the Amis property in the online version of this article at www.timesnews.net.

Jacobs and his wife had operated the property for about a decade when they decided to take a couple of years off from from the day-to-day management to spend more time with family and a new grandchild.

They’ll still be traveling quite a bit back and forth between Rogersville and South Carolina to visit that grandchild.

But Jake told the Times News on Thursday their hiatus reinvigorated their energy and spirit. That means the Amis Mills Historic Site is about to get busy again.

“The Native Americans will be back”

Among the events that will be back on the calendar for the Amis property is the annual Native American Gathering, which ended due to the sudden and unexpected death of event founder Stonewolf Moore in 2019.

Stonewolf was a direct descendant of Chief Dragging Canoe, who was a contemporary of Capt. Thomas Amis.

“The Native Americans will be back,” Jacobs said. “COVID threw a monkey wrench in everything. They’re regrouping and reorganizing after my great friend Stonewolf passed away. He was the festival chief, and he loved doing it. His two sons are going to be pretty much picking it up where he left off along with (Stonewolf’s brothers) Walking Bear and Red Horse, and I think they’re looking at doing it sometime in early October.”

Jacobs said there are some other events and festivals being planned for the property this year, but it’s too early to make any announcements at this time.

“We’ve got the greatest smoker in the world”

As for the eatery, Jacobs said the previous restaurant operators decided to move on, and the eatery had been closed for two weeks before the Aliabadis hosted their grand opening on Thursday.

“(The previous operators) have a different idea of the type of restaurant they want to run, and I think that’s wonderful,” Jacobs said. “Pursue your goals.”

As for the Aliabadi era, Jacobs said diners will find all of the previous favorite menu items and more.

“Kam has a background in Italian food, so we’re going to see a little more Italian food on the menu, which I welcome,” Jacobs said. “I love Italian food. He’s also bringing back the gumbo. There will be a little bit of Cajun food on the menu, and of course, the smoked meats. We’ve got the greatest smoker in the world here, and I noticed where he’s got some fresh pulled pork today, and I’m looking forward to that.”

Friday night prime rib is back on the schedule, which means a revival of Saturday’s popular prime rib sandwich, which is sold until Friday’s leftovers are gone.

Jacobs added, “They have an extensive background in the restaurant business. Kam’s dad was a restaurant owner and he grew up in the business. We’re really excited about this new era. They’re younger. They have more energy than me, and it’s time for some new blood.”

“It’s the grounds that brings the people here”

Aside from their ability to operate the eatery at a high level, Jacobs said he’s also enthusiastic about the Aliabadis because of their interest in participating in events and making full use of the historic property.

Jeff / Jeff Bobo — jbobo@timesnews.net 

The new operators of the Amis Mill Eatery, Kamran Aliabadi and his wife, Shannon (not pictured), had a hectic day on Thursday with the eatery’s grand opening under new management.

“This place draws people here, and I love it up here,” Kamran Aliabadi told the Times News on Thursday. “This property means a lot to the people in this area because so many of their ancestors came through here. It was one of the first places people were coming through for trade and things like that, so it’s a big deal historically.

He added, “It’s all still here. The dam’s still there. It’s the grounds that brings the people here, and then we’ve got a restaurant on the side. That’s the cool part about it.”

Jacobs said he feels reinvigorated by the presence of the Aliabadis, and he foresees this new era being the best yet for the historic property.

“I’m going to be a bigger presence on the grounds with the festivals and events,” Jacobs said. “That’s where Wendy and I will place our energy. I’m helping them occasionally in the eatery to help them get off to a good start, but really, we want to get this property active again, and find new and exciting ways to tell the fascinating stories about the history of this property.”