Recorded phone conversations in commissioner's extortion case could be released

Recorded phone conversations in commissioner's extortion case could be released

April 13th, 2018 by Zack Peterson in Breaking News

Brent Lambert pauses while making a statement concerning his run for the District 8 County Commission seat from the lawn of the Hamilton County Courthouse late Friday. Lambert's father, Wayne Lambert, stands behind him.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

Updated at 11:17 p.m. on Friday, April 14, 2018.

District 8 Commissioner Tim Boyd asks a question of County Mayor Jim Coppinger. The Hamilton County Commission listened to a presentation and recommendations for short and long-term jail and workhouse overcrowding at the Wednesday meeting in the Hamilton County Courthouse on August 29, 2017.

District 8 Commissioner Tim Boyd asks a question...

Photo by Robin Rudd /Times Free Press.

Brent Lambert's press conference

Recorded phone calls at the center of a Hamilton County commissioner's criminal extortion case could be released early next week, East Ridge Mayor Brent Lambert said Friday.

Lambert said he hopes to have his "complete unedited phone conversations" with District 8 Commissioner Tim Boyd available at a noon news conference Monday at the East Ridge Community Center on Tombras Avenue.

Late Friday afternoon, Lambert stood with his family in front of the Hamilton County Courthouse and offered his first public explanation about why he went to the local district attorney with a complaint against Boyd, who he is trying to unseat in the May 1 Republican primary.

Boyd, who posted a $2,500 bond earlier this week and will appear Friday in Hamilton County Criminal Court, said he welcomes the public release of the recorded phone calls.

"We all look forward to hearing the tape in context," Boyd said in a statement. "I am, and I know my legal team will. Court assures the truth will come out. Meanwhile, we have an election to win."

Along with a timeline provided Friday by Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston's office, Lambert's seven-minute explanation of what has transpired between him and Boyd provides a clearer timeline of the political saga.

Lambert, who is chief operating officer of the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, said he received a call on the evening of Feb. 15 from his employer's attorney, Allen McCallie. Lambert said McCallie had received a message from another attorney that Boyd wanted him to drop out of the race.

"That attorney [McCallie] felt obligated to pass the message along to me," Lambert said. "And he encouraged me to contact Mr. Boyd."

When he called back the next morning at 7:40 a.m., Lambert said Boyd threatened him and told him drop out of the race. Lambert didn't say Friday whether he recorded their Feb. 16 conversation.

"When I called him, he told me that some of his political team had some information that was really bad," Lambert said. "He said that he wanted to go public with the information but Boyd himself said he would rather me, Brent Lambert, pull out of the race."

That information concerned $5,000 in political contributions, $3,000 of which Lambert accepted from Interstate 75 Exit 1 developers in the summer of 2017, just days after the East Ridge City Council approved a $4 million bond for one of its projects. Lambert then used that money to pay off a loan from a 2014 campaign that he ran against Boyd for commissioner and lost.

By the time of their phone call in February, those contributions were publicly available in county financial disclosure forms. When Boyd brought up the bad information several times, Lambert said he asked Boyd, "What do you want me to do?"

"Tim Boyd said 'I would prefer you drop out of the race and everything goes away,'" Lambert said Friday. "'Otherwise, I go to the media, the Chattanoogan, the newspaper, social media, I'll do mailers.' He went on to say 'If you stay in the race, it's not going to be pretty. If you get out of the race, it all goes away.'"

Lambert did not say Friday how he ended the Feb. 16 call, but he reached out to Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston later that day, according to a timeline from the DA's office.

According to the timeline, Pinkston and Lambert spoke on the phone on Feb. 18, a Sunday. The next morning, Pinkston called the TBI and scheduled a meeting that day with a TBI agent, Lambert and Lambert's lawyer, John Anderson, the former city attorney for East Ridge who was fired in 2012 for overbilling the city.

The district attorney requested a formal investigation by the TBI on Feb. 20 for "possible extortion communicated during a telephone call." Tennessee law says extortion occurs when a person unlawfully coerces somebody to obtain property, services or any advantage or immunity.

Lambert said he called Boyd a second time, about a week after the first call. According to Boyd's indictment, that call happened around Feb. 22.

Public knowledge of the dispute was limited to Boyd and Lambert's debate at a Pachyderm Club meeting on March 19, nearly a month after Pinkston requested the TBI investigation. At the end of the meeting, someone asked Boyd why he threatened Lambert, his family and his political career. Boyd said he suggested Lambert leave the race to save himself political embarrassment.

Boyd was indicted for one count of extortion Tuesday, a day before early voting started in the primary. Since then, he has maintained this is a political setup and continues to point to Lambert's coziness with developers and associates of the Chattanooga Visitor and Convention Bureau. In 2017, Boyd criticized that organization for excessive spending.

Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Barry White denied any role in the investigation Thursday, prompting Boyd to fire back Friday that four men who were listed on the host committee for a recent Lambert fundraiser also served in January on the bureau's search committee that picked White.

Boyd said those men are former Chattanooga mayor and developer Jon Kinsey, restaurateur Allen Corey, Westin Hotel developer Ken DeFoor and businessman Mitch Patel. According to campaign contributions released Wednesday, Kinsey donated the maximum $1,500 to Lambert on March 5.

Kinsey countered late Friday that Boyd also received $1,000 from one of those men. Financial disclosures show Mitch Patel gave Boyd $1,000 in January.

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.


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