A man who started his career as a public accountant ended up on the inside of almost every major criminal investigation seen in Chattanooga over the last 30 years.
Lynn Barker, however, never was on the inside of the FBI, an agency often given most of the credit for exposing attention-getting scandals such as former Hamilton County Sheriff Billy Long’s double life as an extortionist and money launderer.
Mr. Barker knew all about the Long undercover sting, but he did so while working for what people might consider a far-less glamorous arm of the government: the Internal Revenue Service.
As a criminal investigator for the IRS and a nationally recognized expert in the art of money laundering, Mr. Barker — who retired at the end of August after 30 years — followed the money trail in hundreds of drug cases, fraud schemes and just about every other type of federal crime to hit Chattanooga over the course of his long career.
“Most crimes start with trying to make money,” Mr. Barker said. “And when you make money, you’ve got to put it somewhere.”
In other words, Mr. Barker learned all the tricks criminals use to make their dirty money look clean, which made him the go-to guy for more traditional law enforcement officials trying to prosecute offenders.
“Not every (FBI) agent is able to deal with all the paper and financial transactions,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney John MacCoon. “We would love to get his help because he could just penetrate the most complicated, circuitous cases.”
Mr. Barker still can’t talk about ongoing investigations such as Mr. Long’s. He also can’t talk about the case of former City Councilman John P. “Duke” Franklin Jr., now awaiting a federal trial on charges that he helped a suspected drug dealer hide thousands of dollars.
But in the case of Lonnie Hood, the former Hamilton County sheriff’s officer who was convicted of selling steroids, the FBI relied on Mr. Barker to prove that the officer hid his drug money by building new houses. Mr. Hood pleaded guilty in 1998 and received a five-year prison sentence.
On a grander scale, Mr. Barker once uncovered a national insurance fraud scheme involving AIDS patients that started in Chattanooga.
Using a legitimate form of insurance called a viatical settlement, the supposedly terminally ill AIDS patients would buy life insurance policies and then sell them within a couple of months for a lump of cash, based on the premise that their imminent death would allow the buyer to collect on the policy.
The problem was, the AIDS patients actually were living for years. Mr. Barker’s investigation revealed a trail of at least $50 million that AIDS patients across the nation had swindled out of insurance companies.
A more recent case involved a man who ran an illegal lottery online, taking in about $15 million a year while doing business in Chattanooga and Knoxville.
Those activities included sophisticated computer encryption, Mr. MacCoon said, which led investigators to rely heavily upon Mr. Barker’s knack for cracking those kinds of tactics used to hide crimes.
The suspect, James Houston, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Knoxville in 2006 and received two years on probation.
Mr. Barker admitted that sifting through a computer, as well as piecing together banking and other financial documents, tied him to a desk much of the time. But like some of the other 2,600 criminal investigators for the IRS across the nation, Mr. Barker sometimes took his investigations to the streets.
Not only did he follow the paper trail in the illegal lottery case, he staked out several of the houses in which the suspect did business in Chattanooga, all in an effort to figure out who the customers were.
That kind of after-hours work, said Mr. Barker’s wife Mitzi, only half-jokingly, “was his second wife” and helped solidify his reputation as an aggressive detective in the field.
All of it has combined to give Mr. Barker a couple of opinions on why people commit crimes.
“It all comes down to greed,” he said. “Good people do bad things when they end up trying to get money the easy way.”