published Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

Former manager of Peerless Woolen Mill in Rossville banished from 4 Georgia counties

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    Les Coffey
    Photo by Staff File Photo.
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    The former Peerless Woolen Mills complex is in Rossville.
    Photo by John Rawlston.
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The former property manager of Peerless Woolen Mill in Rossville no longer is allowed to step inside Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade or Walker counties.

Les Coffey, 46, said he pleaded no contest in Walker County Superior Court on Monday to charges of terroristic threats, theft and four counts of interference with government property. As part of a plea deal, he will be on probation for seven years.

He cannot contact one of his former tenants or any Rossville city employees. He also must pay restitution to the city and to that tenant, David Rowan, the owner of a company called Tek-Mak. And, for the next seven years, Coffey must stay out of the four counties that form the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit.

However, Coffey can return to Walker County on Jan. 29 for a hearing to determine how much money he owes the city and Rowan. In July 2010, police said, Coffey tore down one of Rowan's machines and sold it for parts. Then, in August and November 2010, he allegedly clogged the sewage system by stuffing the line with blocks.

Coffey expects to pay between $2,000 and $5,000 for these crimes. Assistant District Attorney Chris Arnt, meanwhile, could not say Tuesday whether that cost range is accurate.

But once he makes this payment, Coffey said, he no longer will be banned from the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit. Arnt said that is not true. The prosecutor said Coffey's probation will be suspended (he won't have to check in with a probation officer), but he still can't enter any of the four counties.

Even if he needs to drive to a place on the other side of the Northwest Georgia district, Coffey can't travel through any of the counties.

"He must drive around," Arnt said.

For his part, Coffey said he did not care about the banishment. He is living in Bryson City, N.C., and also owns a house in Chattanooga. He said he doesn't want to go back to North Georgia.

But he said the case against him is political. In addition to the three crimes he settled this week, Coffey has a long history of disputes with city officials in Rossville.

In August 2010, he filed for a warrant against Rowan and Rossville Police Department Chief Sid Adams. He said Rowan owed him money, and that Adams helped Rowan get some of Rowan's property out of the mill. Coffey said this was theft.

Rowan, meanwhile, claimed Coffey actually stole from him. He said Coffey took one of his machines, stripped it and sold it for parts. In the end, Coffey and Rowan both were charged, and Adams was not. A district attorney later would decline to prosecute Rowan's case, while Coffey's case would conclude as part of the plea deal this week.

Rowan could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

In February 2011, Coffey tried to demolish the mill, according to archives. He said he wanted to turn the property into a scrap yard and water transfer station. But RDC, the company that owned the note on the land, stopped the demolition, and about a week later Coffey again would be arrested.

This time, police charged him with making terroristic threats against Tennessee American Water after it shut off the mill's water. Coffey told the Times Free Press at the time that he paid part of his water bill but left out the sewage portion because he claimed to own the sewer line under his land.

In fact, Coffey argued, the city actually owed him money for using the line. A judge later ruled that the entire sewage system was publicly owned.

The terroristic threats case also was wrapped up by this week's plea deal. Coffey, who represented himself in the cases, claimed he took the deal because paying restitution would be cheaper than hiring an attorney. He said he asked four lawyers about the case, and the cheapest price he could get was about $40,000.

He said his punishment is a result of his bickering with government officials, rather than the cost of committing the crimes.

"Why would you want to banish someone from the [judicial] circuit?" he said Tuesday. "You've got murderers and rapists and career criminals. Why would you want to banish someone who didn't plead guilty?"

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com.

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