ROGERSVILLE — Theft allegations against Mount Carmel Mayor Chris Jones, which resulted in a $571,000 judgment ruling against him in Hawkins County Chancery Court last year, are now going to be heard in Hawkins County Criminal Court.
On Monday, Jones was served with a sealed Hawkins County grand jury indictment warrant charging him with theft over $250,000 stemming from allegations that Jones embezzled almost $394,000 from his grandmother’s estate in the final year of her life. His grandmother passed away in 2016.
Third Judicial District Attorney General Dan Armstrong told the Times News on Monday that Jones' arrest stemmed from a yearlong Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe.
“There was a presentment returned by the Hawkins County grand jury last week that resulted from an almost year-long investigation by the TBI and others in regards to Mr. Jones' theft of over a quarter million dollars from his grandmother,” Armstrong said. “This charge has nothing to do with his duties as the mayor. This charge is purely to do with his grandmother.”
Although the alleged theft took place in West Virginia, Armstrong said Hawkins County has jurisdiction because the money that was allegedly taken was deposited in a Tennessee bank at the Hawkins County branch.
“It's just one count of theft, but it was an ongoing common scheme or planned theft over a period of several weeks,” Armstrong noted.
Jones was being held in the Hawkins County Jail on Monday evening on $300,000 bond pending arraignment in criminal court on April 30. Theft over $250,000 is a Class A felony punishable by 15-25 years if found guilty.
Civil lawsuit allegations against Jones
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 Marceline Carpenter 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 percent 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.”
Jones had contested the West Virginia ruling, stating it wasn't valid in Tennessee.
In March 2019, Third Judicial District Chancellor Doug Jenkins ruled that the $571,000 West Virginia judgment against Jones is valid in Tennessee and can be collected.
Fired from MCPD in 2013
Jones was a longtime Mount Carmel police officer, detective and fire chief until 2013, when he was fired by former Mayor Larry Frost amid allegations he'd stolen pills that were in a jacket that was turned in to the police department after being found at the City Park.
That lost-and-found jacket was reportedly part of an attempted sting operation, and although Jones was fired, no criminal charges were filed.
In 2014, Jones was elected Mount Carmel alderman, and in 2016 he unseated Frost in the mayoral election. Jones has stated publicly he has no plans to seek re-election this year.