Saturday, May 06, 2006

Cocke County, Tennesseee

The Knoxville News-Sentinel's website has developed a standing, evolving timeline of corruption in Cocke County, Tennessee. It opens like this:

Welcome to Cocke County.

For generations of East Tennesseans, this mountain community of 35,000 people has borne — fairly or not — the reputation as the region's capital of vice and corruption.

Local leaders have tried mightily to overcome this image, focusing instead on victories on the fronts of industrial development and tourism. But old habits die hard, and recent events show that many of the same practices that once earned Cocke County the nickname of "Little Chicago" still flourish in the hills and hollows that border the North Carolina state line.

Federal and state authorities have been targeting the county for at least four years, deploying everything from undercover agents to helicopters and SWAT teams to support an investigation that has reportedly turned up a dizzying array of criminal activities: drug trafficking, chop shops, the hijacking of interstate shipments, organized gambling, prostitution, fraud, attempted money laundering, racketeering and public corruption.

The ultimate scope and targets of the probe, which is known unofficially in government circles as "Operation Rose Thorn," are still unknown. At the heart of the investigation thus far have been allegations of corruption in the Cocke County Sheriff's Department, but a major fund-raiser for Gov. Phil Bredesen named Harold Grooms has also emerged as one of Rose Thorn's targets. The sheriff's department suffered a series of embarrassing blows in 2005 as five officers were indicted on federal charges, and longtime Sheriff D.C. Ramsey, a Republican, resigned after it was disclosed early this year that he was a target of an FBI inquiry into illegal gambling operations involving video poker machines and cockfighting. Public records obtained by The News Sentinel have also revealed possible connections between members of Sheriff Ramsey's family and a host of convicted drug dealers, car thieves and alleged cockfighters who have been implicated in the probe as well as ties to businesses that have been raided by state and federal agents.

Ramsey's nephew and chief deputy, Patrick Taylor, was arrested with his brother, Jarrod Taylor, just before Christmas for allegedly conspiring to traffic in thousands of dollars worth of stolen NASCAR merchandise and is awaiting trial. Another deputy has admitted in federal court to sidelining as an armed cocaine dealer; a second officer has pleaded guilty to taking part in a scheme to smuggle drug money to Miami; a third officer has pleaded guilty to stealing money from a drug suspect during a traffic stop; and a fourth has been convicted of perjury and witness tampering.

The county's other law enforcement agency, the Newport Police Department, hasn't been immune to allegations of corruption: two sergeants are awaiting trial on charges of shaking down a pair of Hispanic men during a traffic stop.

Since the probe began about four years ago, criminal charges have been filed against more than 170 people as state and federal agents have cracked down on vice and associated crimes through a series of raids that shut down two brothels and the Del Rio Cockfighting Pit, which has been described as one of the largest illegal gambling facilities in the Southeast United States. Search warrants have also targeted a number of taverns, homes, garages, a video amusement company, and a downtown flower shop.

This isn't the first time that Cocke County has found itself in the crosshairs of the FBI. Many of the individuals who have recently been accused of illegal activities have been in trouble before, sometimes in connection with previous allegations of misconduct leveled against law enforcement officials.

One prosecutor has said the current probe represents the "last gasps" of an outlaw tradition that began generations ago, and it appears that the first acts of the drama now unfolding in Newport and Del Rio may have begun in the 1960s, when D.C. Ramsey was a young constable elected to patrol the roads of one of East Tennessee's roughest areas.

That said, the Sentinel has put together a detailed summary of that "outlaw tradition." It is definitely worth ten, twenty minutes, especially if you're living in Tennessee and are unconvinced that major reform isn't necessary.


sctaylor said...

What is the use of living in a county named Cocke if you can not have a good cock fight. Whats this world coming to, lawdy,lawdy,lawdy

sctaylor said...

What use is it to live in a county called Cocke if you can not have a good, clean cock fight, while sipping out of a jar. Whats this worls coming to.

SteveLong said...

I've told many people this but I'll relate it here again. The old IMAC (Inter-Mountain Athletic Conference) would often pit Cocke County against Morristown West. Their mascots? Cocks and Trojans.

Bill Beason said...

Wanna see what Cocke County deputies do to Veterans with PTSD.

Check out this site and learn what Derrek Webb and Randy Renner did to a vet with PTSD;

It's time to get these thugs off the CCSD!

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