Hamilton County commissioner: Extortion indictment 'reeks of politics'

Tim Boyd claims it's a setup by his opponent East Ridge Mayor Brent Lambert

In this March 29, 2017, staff file photo, Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd speaks about his plan to reallocate $4 million from the county budget during a meeting with the Times Free Press editorial board in Chattanooga, Tenn.

A Hamilton County commissioner running for re-election was indicted Tuesday on one count of extortion, but he says it's a political attack with problematic timing.

Tim Boyd, 65, is expected to turn himself in to authorities today, the day after an indictment was filed in Hamilton County Criminal Court - and the same day early voting starts for the May 1 Republican primary.

photo Mayor Brent Lambert participates in an East Ridge City Council meeting on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, in East Ridge, Tenn.

"This action by the district attorney today is perhaps the most flagrantly political, despicable, desperate thing any of us has ever seen in Hamilton County," Boyd said in a statement Tuesday. "It reeks of politics and is exactly the kind of government overreach that voters are sick and tired of. I welcome all the facts around Mr. [Brent] Lambert's charges, and I will take my case for re-election to the voters in District 8."

A spokeswoman for the district attorney's office said Boyd's indictment cannot be released until he's been arrested, so it's unclear what the exact evidence is against him. But Boyd said it is a setup by East Ridge Mayor Brent Lambert, who's trying to unseat him as District 8 commissioner.

The legal action, Boyd said in a statement, boils down to Lambert's coziness with developers and associates of the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau, which Boyd has criticized during meetings.

"The facts about Mr. Lambert's taking money from the Exit 1 developers, putting it into his campaign account and then putting it in his pocket are well-known," Boyd said in his statement. "They were public before I talked with Mr. Lambert and I used these facts in a mailer to voters this week. Is there any question about the motivations of those involved with this?"

Lambert, who had filed a complaint last month with the district attorney's office after saying Boyd threatened him to leave the race, did not respond to multiple calls for comment Tuesday.

A campaign fundraiser held for Lambert Monday night included developers Matt Wood and Ethan Wood, who were involved in the East Ridge Exit 1 project on Interstate 75, but it's unknown how much money he raised at the event.

Boyd and Lambert were set to appear in a debate Tuesday night at Wally's Restaurant in East Ridge hosted by the Nightside Pachyderm Club. But unsure if he would be arrested, Boyd declined to show. And Lambert canceled shortly after, according to Dean Moorhouse, a former club president who showed up to an empty room around 5:30 p.m.

The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office received Boyd's indictment Tuesday morning and has arranged for him to report to jail through his attorney "at a time to be determined," spokesman Matt Lea said.

The dispute can be traced back to an appearance Boyd and Lambert made March 19 at a Pachyderm Club debate. The politicians were taking questions when someone asked Boyd why he threatened Lambert, telling him to leave the race.

Boyd said he asked Lambert to pull out after learning Lambert had received $5,000 in political contributions, including $3,000 from Exit 1 developers, just days after the East Ridge town council approved more than $4 million in bonds for the project and at a time when Lambert didn't have a campaign going on.

But Boyd said he never threatened Lambert: "I asked him because I felt like the information that was going to be disclosed may not be good for him, his family, his political aspirations or the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum [where Lambert is president and CEO]."

In a later interview, Boyd said Lambert called him to raise the issue of contributions.

After the March 19 Pachyderm meeting, Lambert said Boyd was set to "release damaging information on me if I did not withdraw. I believe [the contributions] were what he had in mind."

Lambert filed a complaint against Boyd with the district attorney's office. From there, District Attorney General Neal Pinkston turned the complaint over to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, his spokeswoman said last month, and the TBI brought the case to a Hamilton County grand jury.

Extortion is a Class D felony that carries two to four years in prison. According to Tennessee law, a person commits extortion when they coerce another person in an effort to obtain property, services, "any advantage or immunity, or restrict unlawfully another's freedom of action."

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