East Ridge Mayor Brent Lambert called his campaign opponent Tim Boyd a "backroom bully" Wednesday and thanked law enforcement for bringing a criminal extortion case this week against the Hamilton County commissioner.
"When I was threatened several weeks ago, I felt that I had no recourse but to alert the authorities," Lambert said in his first public statement about the incident. "I applaud the [Tennessee Bureau of Investigation] for doing a thorough investigation into the threats that were made against me, my family, my professional career and political career."
Too bad it was a recorded setup that won't work, said Boyd, who posted a $2,500 bond Wednesday morning after turning himself in to authorities.
Boyd doesn't have a court date set yet in Hamilton County Criminal Court. But he said he's not guilty and believes he can still win the May 1 Republican primary. On his Facebook page, roughly 40 commenters Wednesday questioned the evidence and said they supported him.
"Mr. Lambert, who did not have a single campaign sign out today for early voting, is right about one thing," Boyd said Wednesday in response. "A court case with discovery and depositions will bring forth the truth. Otherwise, his words seem somewhat delusional."
Lambert is trying to unseat Boyd, who is seeking a third term as District 8 commissioner, in the primary. He says Boyd threatened him to drop out of the race over campaign contributions and filed a complaint against him last month.
But Boyd says Lambert set him up before Wednesday's early voting for their race - and recorded him.
He said Lambert called him two times to discuss $5,000 in contributions, $3,000 of which came from Interstate 75 Exit 1 developers just days after the East Ridge town council approved more than $4 million in bonds for the project. Boyd says he never threatened Lambert, but advised him to leave the race to save himself from embarrassment.
Boyd said Wednesday he assumed Lambert was recording him in both phone calls.
"That means [Lambert] is also on the tape asking me on both calls what I thought he should do about staying in the race," Boyd said Wednesday. "Easy to see now that was the setup question he was given by the folks pushing him. I just didn't realize how little integrity Lambert has, and that is my mistake."
Those folks, Boyd says, are developers and associates of the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau, which Boyd has criticized numerous times for its private spending habits.
Lambert did not return additional calls Wednesday, but in his statement he reiterated that nothing he did was illegal.
"I look forward to the evidence that will soon be made available that captures the nature of the threats made against me and the false claims of any wrong-doing in my previous campaigns," Lambert wrote in his statement. "I can say with all confidence that nothing that I have done in any campaign past or currently has been illegal."
If prosecutors have recorded phone calls, they have to exchange those with Boyd's legal team, local attorneys said. Asked Wednesday when that would happen, a spokeswoman for the local district attorney's office said, "I have no idea." A TBI spokeswoman also declined to comment on the case.
According to his criminal indictment, which the Times Free Press first reported Tuesday, Boyd "unlawfully coerced" Lambert on or before Feb. 22, 2018, "with the intent to obtain property, services, any advantage or immunity; or to restrict another's freedom of action."
"In this case, telling your opponent to stop would be the alleged advantage," said defense attorney Bill Speek. "These are extremely generally written statutes. There's an awful lot of behavior that you might be able to shoebox into that statute."
Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.
Brent Lambert's full statement
My campaign to serve the great citizens of our community began because of my commitment to see East Ridge grow and prosper as a wonderful place to live and raise our families. My work as East Ridge Mayor has reflected that commitment with economic development and job growth. My commitment has been strengthened that District 8 deserves a voice committed to our community, not political grandstanding or theater. I am more committed than ever to the fact that good things can happen if we work together.The events of recent days are only a snapshot of what has occurred over the last several weeks that have impacted the importance of this race and the very reason that I am a candidate.I applaud the TBI for doing a thorough investigation into the threats that were made against me, my family, my professional career and political career. The TBI is receiving the full cooperation of me, my family and my campaign. Despite any claims to minimize this situation, the TBI has been thorough and respectful in its fact-finding and presentation of facts to the grand jury that has issued this indictment.When I was threatened several weeks ago, I felt that I had no recourse but to alert the authorities. Citizens of District 8 are not represented by the backroom bullying that has been the standard approach by the current incumbent on any number of issues. Under the premise of "asking the hard questions," the incumbent has appeared to be an advocate for an accountable government. Ironically, his tactics and behavior demonstrate anything but an accountable government.I look forward to the evidence that will soon be made available that captures the nature of the threats made against me and the false claims of any wrong-doing in my previous campaigns. I can say with all confidence that nothing that I have done in any campaign past or currently has been illegal.While the events of the recent days have placed the campaign for County Commission District 8 in the news and the court of public opinion, the TBI investigation will be concluded in a court of law. My personal pledge to the citizens of District 8 is to be a public servant that represents the district and the issues best served by our community. You deserve better.