published Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

Secretary: Miller knew work wasn't performed

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Former state Sen. Jeff Miller's secretary wept Tuesday as she testified that he knew work was not completed on some back-tax properties when he was the county's delinquent-tax attorney.

Questioned by Bradley County Assistant District Attorney Stephen Hatchett, April Miles testified that Mr. Miller knew lien searches for which he was paid were not completed.

"Ms. Miles, right now in front of this jury, under oath. Were all those searches completed?" Mr. Hatchett said.

"No," she replied.

"Did Mr. Miller know that?" he asked.

"Yes," she replied.

Tuesday was the first day of Mr. Miller's trial on charges of official misconduct and conspiracy to commit official misconduct in Bradley County Criminal Court.

Mr. Miller's charges are related to an estimated 300 lien searches filed but not completed between April 2006 and February 2009, Mr. Hatchett said.

Lien searches are required on property with unpaid taxes. The back-tax attorney prepares an annual report of those properties for the county registrar of deeds, who charges owners a $75 fee for each parcel.

Mr. Miller was paid $75 for each lien search plus 10 percent of the taxes owed. If the estimated number of liens not performed but collected on is accurate, Bradley County paid Mr. Miller $22,500 for lien searches not performed, Mr. Hatchett said.

In testimony Tuesday, Ms. Miles said Mr. Miller had told her privately that he could not be charged if he did not know about uncompleted searches.

When investigators seeking documentation about lien searches asked her about the documents, she told them she had thrown them away.

"That's what I thought I should do," she testified.

"Why?" he asked.

"Because I needed my job," she replied.

Mr. Miller and Ms. Miles both were arrested on March 25 after being indicted by a grand jury. Ms. Miles was charged with perjury and conspiracy to commit official misconduct.

She told jurors Tuesday that the district attorney's office granted her pre-trial diversion, which means she won't have to go to trial and can have her records expunged after a two-year probationary period.

When Ms. Miles faced Mr. Miller's attorney, Fred Hanzelik, he read previous sworn statements in which she told investigators that Mr. Miller did not know about the lien searches. He continually pointed out contradictions between her previous statements and her testimony.

He asked her if Mr. Miller ever specifically told her to lie. She said he did not.

During his opening statements, Mr. Hanzelik told the jury that the charges were "politically motivated."

He said the criminal case was pursued after County Attorney Joe Byrd told District Attorney Steve Bebb that he could not find previous years' lien searches.

Mr. Hanzelik said he would show a "history" between Mr. Miller, a Republican and Mr. Bebb, a Democrat.

The trial continues today.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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