An attorney representing former Hamilton County Sheriff Billy Long waived his client’s rights to preliminary and detention hearings in federal court Friday and later identified to media representatives the prosecution’s confidential informant as “Mr. Overstreet.”
“He’s a gentleman who is involved in a lot of this,” attorney Jerry Summers said.
The person Mr. Summers referred to is the Rev. Eugene Overstreet, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church and owner of Family Mortuary, sources confirmed.
According to a criminal complaint against Mr. Long, he and a confidential informant “were involved in a scheme to extort money from store owners whose country of origin was India.”
Mr. Long and the confidential informant also were involved in a scheme to smuggle drug proceeds to Mexico in cremation urns under cremated human remains, the complaint states.
Mr. Long wore a red, jail jumpsuit, handcuffs and leg irons when he stood before U.S. Magistrate Judge Bill Carter and agreed to forego the hearings. Judge Carter said he would rule that enough probable cause exists to send the case to a federal grand jury.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Humble declined comment on the case.
On Tuesday, Mr. Overstreet denied having any special relationship with the sheriff.
“I know him as sheriff and what I read in the paper,” he said. “That’s my comment.”
Mr. Overstreet, 55, has participated in at least one 9/11 memorial ceremony organized by the sheriff’s department.
He is listed as the registered agent of the for-profit Family Mortuary, Inc., which was formed in June 2001, according to records from the Tennessee secretary of state’s office.
He once ran House of Overstreet Mortuary in Dalton, Ga. But he lost that business in 2002 after he was evicted when the property owner filed suit claiming Mr. Overstreet owed $9,400 in back rent.
In Chattanooga, Mr. Overstreet has been involved in local politics and has encouraged other black religious leaders to do the same, records show.
He is accused of passing worthless checks in 2004, Hamilton County court records show. He pleaded guilty to the offense, a class D felony, on Nov. 1, 2006, records show.
Mr. Overstreet is serving his four-year sentence on probation and is to be monitored by the Chattanooga Probation and Parole Office until Nov. 1, 2010, according to state records.
Though the registered agent of the mortuary is listed as Mr. Overstreet, whose address is given as 1805 McCallie Ave., the mortuary’s principal office is listed as 633 Chestnut St., Suite 760. That office, in the building where the Bank of America has a downtown branch, appeared to be unoccupied on Tuesday.
The FBI, which facilitated the sting leading to Sheriff Long’s arrest along with the Internal Revenue Service, has offices at 633 Chestnut St., Suite 540.
The criminal complaint against Mr. Long indicates that the investigation was launched during a March 20, 2007, telephone conversation and continued until the sheriff’s arrest Feb. 2.
FBI Supervisory Senior Resident Agent Edward Galloway would not answer any questions about the identities of those related to the case.
“The fact that the FBI has conducted an investigation is clearly known at this point, but I’m not prepared to discuss the details of the case,” Agent Galloway said.
Nita Farahany, assistant professor of law at the University of Tennessee College of Law, said it is a “large ethical problem” to publicly identify a cooperating witness.
“It’s considered pretty serious abuse to reveal the identity of a confidential informant,” she said.
Mr. Summers could not be reached for further comment.
According to Chattanooga City Council minutes from Feb. 6, 2007, Mr. Overstreet addressed the council and boasted that he walked the site of a proposed homeless complex on East 11th Street with Mayor Ron Littlefield before the mayor’s election along with the late William Aubrey Thompson and was instrumental in the purchase of that property.
“(Mr. Overstreet) stated that the idea does not seem to please a lot of people with ‘funny badges’ from Washington who have been tiptoeing around his funeral home,” the minutes state. “He reiterated that he is proud to be one of the progenitors of the Eleventh Street property purchase.”
According to a Sept. 20, 1997, St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times report, a man identified as the Rev. C. Eugene Overstreet defended a black Baptist church leader accused of embezzling more than $214,000 in donations meant for burned black churches.
Judge Carter selected a March 5 court date when Mr. Long likely will be arraigned on charges of extortion, money laundering, possession of more than five kilograms of cocaine with intent to distribute and providing a gun to a convicted felon.