Cook: The white faces of crime

Cook: The white faces of crime

November 20th, 2013 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

They arrested 32 black men on gun and drug charges and called them our city's "worst of the worst."

What about our white-collar crooks? What about the gentlemen -- champagned and caviared, dressed to the nines -- who can beg, borrow and steal their way to millions in money that isn't theirs?

Let's begin in Soddy-Daisy with Jack Brown and his $12 million Ponzi scheme.

The longtime tax preparer convinced dozens of trusting men and women to invest their life savings by dangling promises he could earn them returns of up to 15 percent.

Instead, Brown, who died in September, used their savings to buy lakefront property, mansions and a carnival-esque collection of toys and ATVs.

"He lived big," his former bookkeeper told the Times Free Press. "He didn't care about taking people's money."

Brown ultimately filed bankruptcy as his investors were filing police reports against him. When he died, the Brown family still owed millions to retirees, widows and others who had invested in him.

The federal government never filed any charges.

Then there's Tracy Brown, the former BB&T Bank executive who stole nearly $500,000. He forged customer signatures to make fraudulent loans and then detoured the funds to his personal account.

Brown pleaded guilty this fall and was sentenced to 27 months in jail. He could have been sentenced to 30 years in jail. I wonder if judges will be as lenient to the 32 "worst of the worst" as they were to Brown.

Remember Billy Long, the former Hamilton County sheriff? In 2008, he was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to 27 counts of extortion, money laundering, providing a firearm to a felon and possession of more than 5 kilograms of cocaine.

Don't forget Mike Killian, the ex-mayor of South Pittsburg who's soon to be sentenced to federal prison for running an illegal gambling operation.

In Cleveland, there are allegations of massive Medicare fraud. The feds claim that Life Care Center executives rigged a scheme that netted hundreds of millions in fraudulent reimbursements, while a doctor was recently indicted after prosecutors say he received $7.5 million in Medicare payments for Botox shots he never gave.

What constitutes "the worst" crime? How do we measure it?

What about the slumlords who own all the properties in rundown neighborhoods where crack is bought and sold? Is it worse to sell crack or to steal someone's life fortune? Is it worse for a felon to own a gun or for a sheriff to give him one?

What about the crime that is poverty? Ken Chilton, professor at Tennessee State, recently emailed some startling statistics: the percentage of blacks living in poor Hamilton County neighborhoods increased from 47 percent in 2000 to 58 percent in 2010.

On the other side of the street, the percentage of whites living in wealthy neighborhoods increased from 5 percent to 16 percent during the same period.

"This is inequality in action," the former head of the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies wrote. "This is the driving factor behind the gangs and violence."

No one speaks about that at news conferences. We see the mugshots of 32 black men. We hear officials call them the worst of the worst. It feeds the story we tell ourselves: when we talk about crime in this city, we often automatically picture a black man. It's our societal assumption dressed in blackface.

All those people named above? They're white.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.