McMinn County man pleads guilty in child porn case; link to deputy revealed

McMinn County man pleads guilty in child porn case; link to deputy revealed

February 19th, 2014 by Todd South and Judy Walton in Local Regional News

Terry Lynn Hayes

Photo by WRCB-TV Channel 3 /Times Free Press.

Document: Sheriff Joe Guy Statement

Official statement regarding recent allegations of misconduct by the McMinn County Sheriff?s Office regarding Terry Hayes.

Joe Guy

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

A McMinn County businessman who drugged teenage girls and photographed them in sexual poses texted one such picture to the county's chief deputy, who was in training at the FBI Academy at the time, sources close to the investigation confirm.

Terry Lynn Hayes pleaded guilty Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga to transporting child pornography and to giving cocaine to a minor, both in August 2012. As part of a plea agreement, eight counts of providing cocaine, hydrocodone, Xanax and other drugs to minors and a weapons possession charge will be dropped at his June 2 sentencing hearing.

He is expected to be sentenced to between five and 20 years in federal prison.

The plea agreement states that Hayes, 48, took pornographic pictures of two girls under age 16 after giving them drugs. And, the plea agreement states, "the defendant attached one of the photographs depicting the minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct to a text which he transported by the use of his phone to an acquaintance in Quantico, Va."

The recipient was not named in the plea agreement, but sources close to the investigation confirmed that he was Matt Blair, McMinn County chief deputy and brother-in-law of Sheriff Joe Guy.

Though Blair was in the heart of federal law enforcement for a 10-week class, there's no indication he reported receiving child porn or asked for an investigation.

Several McMinn County sources, including active and retired law enforcement, say Blair and Hayes were close friends -- close enough that Blair had the keys to Hayes' $500,000 waterfront home on Watts Bar Lake -- and that Hayes allowed Guy to use the house in 2011 for a meeting of the sheriff's command staff.

Blair does not face any charges for having the photo on his phone, the sources close to the federal investigation said. And there's no suggestion that Guy was in any way related to Hayes' illegal activities.

In a statement Tuesday night, Guy said he couldn't comment on the specifics of the federal case. He said his office acted properly in the investigation, finding the evidence of a federal offense, making federal authorities aware of it and working with U.S. investigators on the case.

"These allegations are absurd and are most certainly being made because it is an election year. This is not the first time my political opponents have used this type of garbage tactic," Guy's statement said.

He did not address the issue of the photo sent to Blair's phone.

But some in McMinn County have questioned why the sheriff's office did not call in the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to look into the Hayes case. That is common practice whenever a potential conflict of interest is involved in an investigation.

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The Hayes investigation began in Rhea County after a 14-year-old girl was found, disoriented and bleeding, and told investigators she had been raped, according to Rocky Potter, child abuse and sexual assault investigator for the Rhea County Sheriff's Office.

Potter said he interviewed an 18-year-old female accomplice of Hayes who found young girls for him and set up meetings.

"I know of at least two or three girls," he said, based on names the 18-year-old provided.

Hayes has not been charged with having sex with minors. A conviction for aggravated statutory rape could bring a sentence of two to 20 years, according to state law.

One of Hayes' attorneys, Howard Upchurch, of Pikeville, said he'd been involved with the case since his client was charged and though he expected state-level charges, only a drug charge resulted. Hayes' other attorney, Stephen Greer, of Dunlap, said he expected any state charge to be resolved.

Neither would comment on whether state charges were dropped as part of the federal plea or if a state rape charge was discussed earlier in the investigation.

According to the plea agreement, on Aug. 5, 2012, Hayes picked up three girls, ages 14, 15 and 16, in Dayton, Tenn. He gave them Xanax and drove them to his home in Niota, where he also gave them powder cocaine and other drugs and took sexually explicit photos.

The 14-year-old ended up requiring medical treatment and her father called police. On Aug. 7, 2012, Hayes' home was searched, but he was not charged until the federal indictment came down in September 2013. When Hayes' phone was searched, the text with the photo attachment turned up, which triggered federal interest in the case.

Sources inside and outside law enforcement told the Times Free Press there was a well-known friendship between Hayes and Blair.

Former Sgt. Mike Hayes -- no relation to Terry Hayes -- spent nearly 18 years in the McMinn Sheriff's Office before leaving six weeks ago for a job outside law enforcement. He said he was a road supervisor in May 2011 when Guy held a retreat for his supervisors -- his chief deputy, the detective supervisor, the jail administrator and several sergeants -- at Terry Hayes' lakefront home. That was more than a year before the investigation began.

Mike Hayes said Terry Hayes wasn't there. The group hung out in the house and on the deck, grilled burgers and did some training exercises, he said. Guy and Blair indicated they were staying the night after the others left.

Other sources, who asked for anonymity because they fear retaliation, confirmed the friendship between Blair and Terry Hayes. The sources said they would have expected the McMinn Sheriff's Office to turn the case over to the TBI.

TBI spokeswoman Illana Tate said the McMinn Sheriff's Office didn't ask for help.

"We assisted with a search warrant. That was our only involvement," Tate said in an email.

Hayes is hoping for a five- to seven-year sentence, but the child porn count could bring from five to 20 years and the drug charge between one and 40 years.

Prosecutor James Brooks declined to comment on the case before sentencing, which is U.S. Attorney office policy here.

Hayes could be fined up to $250,000 and must register as a sex offender when he is released from prison, when he will serve several more years under federal supervision.

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416.

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.