published Friday, October 22nd, 2010

Bredesen defends Farr

NASHVILLE -- Gov. Phil Bredesen on Thursday defended his former revenue commissioner, Reagan Farr, saying he believes dissension within the Revenue Department helped lead to Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and FBI probe into how some sales tax investigations were handled during Farr's tenure.

Saying he has "great and complete confidence" in Farr, Bredesen told reporters, "I don't have any question that it's all going to turn out fine."

"Commissioners of revenue, it's their job to make calls just like this all the time. I'm sure if you go back over a 100 of them, anybody could find one they didn't think somebody ... could have made the call the other way," said Bredesen, a Democrat.

Bredesen said that "within a department like that, there are always different currents" and "wheels within wheels."

Earlier this week, the TBI confirmed being contacted by Davidson County District Attorney Torry Johnson "to investigate circumstances relating to state sales tax investigations and subsequent negotiations and settlements on the part of the Department of Revenue on businesses in the state."

Among the cases, officials confirmed, is D.T. McCall & Sons, a Middle Tennessee furniture store chain owned by the McCalls, a politically prominent family.

District Attorney General Tommy Thompson of the 15th Judicial District, which includes Jackson, Macon, Smith, Trousdale and Wilson counties, has said he called the TBI about the Revenue's sales tax investigation of McCall's after becoming concerned Farr had "poorly handled" an investigation into whether the McCall stores were collecting sales taxes.

He said the department should have come to him for help with a criminal investigation after a number of employees asserted their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

The department's investigations are shrouded by secrecy unless criminal charges are pursued.

Farr, while not going into specifics about any company, has said investigations were "handled appropriately" under his tenure.

He confirmed the FBI served him a subpoena for taxpayer records on Sept. 1, his last day on the job. He previously had announced he was returning to the private sector.

Meanwhile, the case has boiled over into the political arena as Democrats seek to make political hay out of problems with the McCalls, whom records show have contributed at least $170,000 to Republicans this cycle, and Republicans counter attack.

Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney said "this controversy seems to have been drummed up by the Democrats just days before an election they know isn't going to end in their favor."

Thompson, he said, is "a significant Democrat donor who contributed this election cycle to state Senate Democrat nominee George McDonald who, coincidentally, is challenging popular Republican state Senator Mae Beavers."

Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, had planned not to seek reelection to her seat but jumped back into the contest after the McCall store chain's president, A.J. McCall, chose not to run.

State Ethics and Campaign Finance disclosures show McCall family members or their PAC have contributed at least $20,000 this election cycle to the campaign Beavers campaign.

Records also show Thompson gave $1,850 to McDonald.

"Absolutely not," Thompson said when asked whether partisan considerations were behind his actions.

Thompson, who noted he runs as an independent, said he has bought appliances and furniture from the McCalls for years. He said got to know McDonald when his mother was killed by a drunk driver. He acknowledged he doesn't think much of Beavers and almost supported her GOP primary opponent, Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mount Juliet.

"I strongly feel that we need a good senator and we haven't had one in a long time," Thompson said. "But I also gave $400 to [GOP congressional candidate] Diane Black. ... I voted for [former Republican Gov. Don] Sundquist. I vote for whoever I think is the best person in a situation."

Federal Election Commission records show Thompson gave $400 to 6th Congressional District Republican Diane Black on Aug. 4.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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