Investigation nets 320 indictments, 10 arrests on forgery, lien charges

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) – A year-long investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Knoxville Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation resulted in a 320-count indictment and the arrests of ten East Tennesseans on charges of unlawfully filing liens and making false entries into records.

TBI agents started investigating people from East Tennessee that filed Uniform Commercial Code liens and financing statements with the Tennessee Secretary of State’ office in Nashville. The $4 million to $12 million liens were filed against dozens of people across the state like government elected officials, police officers, and attorneys.

320 indictments were returned by a Davidson County Grand Jury of draw a lien without a legal basis and forgery charges on January 24.

On Wednesday, simultaneous arrests of the charged people in Anderson, Cocke, Greene, and Knox counties were conducted by law enforcement officers with TBI, FBI, Tennessee Highway Patrol, Tennessee Departement of Safety and Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations, Knoxville Police, Knox County Sheriff, Morristown Police, Anderson County Sheriff, Cocke County Sheriff, Newport Police, Greene County Sheriff, Jefferson County Sheriff, Oak Ridge Police, and Oliver Springs Police.

Tre Hargett, Tennessee Secretary of State, released a statement Thursday detailing his reasoning for wanting to pass Senate Bill 726/House Bill 535 to "permanently remove fraudulent liens from the filing record."

"These arrests send a clear message," Hargett said. "Public officials as well as state and local government employees shouldn't be harassed with fraudulent liens just for doing their jobs. We believe this will provide an expedited and uncomplicated remedy to this targeted abuse. Additionally, since legal costs associated with this process can be recovered under this legislation, fraudulent filers should think twice before they file."

Currently, officials are able to file an affidavit stating a lien was filed without "any reasonable basis or legal cause." After this is filed, the Secretary of State's office can give notice to the purported secured party. If the secured party chooses not to dispute the affidavit, then the lien is removed from the record.

The majority of the people arrested as a result of the lien and forgery indictments were transported to the Davidson County Jail. Their charges and bond amounts are listed below:

*Michael Robert Birdsell, 54, Andersonville – 8 counts Draw a Lien without a Legal Basis, 8 counts Forgery $250,000 or more. Bond $150,000.

*Austin Gary Cooper, 68, Clinton – 10 counts Draw a Lien without a Legal Basis, 10 counts Forgery $250,000 or more. Bond $150,000.

*Lee Harold Cromwell, 67, Oak Ridge – 14 counts Draw a Lien without a Legal Basis, 14 counts Forgery $250,000 or more. Bond $150,000.

*Victor Douglas Bunch, 72, Powell – 17 counts Draw a Lien without a Legal Basis, 17 counts Forgery $250,000 or more. Bond $150,000.

*Christopher Alan Hauser, 51, Del Rio – 21 counts Draw a Lien without a Legal Basis, 21 counts Forgery $250,000 or more. Bond $150,000.

*Ronald James Lyons, 52, Newport – 30 counts Draw a Lien without a Legal Basis, 30 counts Forgery $250,000 or more. Bond $150,000.

*James Michael Usinger, 64, Greeneville – 22 counts Draw a Lien without a Legal Basis, 22 counts Forgery $250,000 or more. Bond $150,000.

*John Jeffrey Williams, 50, Powell – 3 counts Draw a Lien without a Legal Basis, 3 counts Forgery $250,000 or more. Bond $25,000.

*George Edward Williams, 76, Powell – 3 counts Draw a Lien without a Legal Basis, 3 counts Forgery $250,000 or more. Bond $25,000. Currently in custody in the Anderson County Jail.

*Kenneth Ray Foust, 73, Clinton – 3 counts Draw a Lien without a Legal Basis, 3 counts Forgery $250,000 or more. Bond $25,000. Currently in custody in the Anderson County Jail.