Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

July 29, 2013

DA won't prosecute robo calls

By Jim Young
Chronicle correspondent

— A letter from 13th Judicial District Attorney General Randy York outlines his office's investigation into robo calls from last fall's Crossville City Council election.

The investigation was requested by the city last August following a series of phone calls made spoofing that they originated from the phone at Crossville City Hall. The letter confirms the Chronicle’s investigation published July 19 based on the search warrant executed at Jesse Kerley’s home after Crossville police gathered evidence pointing to then-candidate Kerley as the originator of the calls.

York’s letter says, “based up on information supplied to this office, it was obvious that a class A misdemeanor was committed and that the city of Crossville was the victim.”

York says he requested assistance from the Crossville police department to conduct the investigation. The letter continues, “At this point, we did not have any ideas as to the identity of the individual that caused the calls to be made or who was responsible for posting signs on behalf of a group identified as Citizens for a Better Crossville.” York wrote, “The Crossville police department did an outstanding job in their investigation.”

York's letter goes through a timeline of the investigation into incidents including emails to then-councilman and candidate Boyd Wyatt threatening to expose him, sent from an email set up and accessed by Kerley from several IP addresses assigned to him.

Following that information, York’s letter outlines his investigators secured a search warrant for Kerley’s residence and the search recovered political signs related to Wyatt associated with Citizens for a better Crossville, a political cartoon disparaging Wyatt’s campaign and an Apple laptop computer.

The computer was sent to the TBI for investigation and analysis and “direct evidence leading to the robo calls” was found on Kerley’s computer, according to York's letter. That evidence led to a Texas firm, Voice Broadcasting Corporation, and information from that company evidenced the fact that “an individual identifying himself Jesse Kerley paid for the robocall services with his credit card.”

Kerley previously told the Chronicle those robo calls had been paid for by someone else. None of the robo calls or the signs of Citizens for a Better Crossville were reported on Kerley’s election financial disclosure form filed on his campaign. According to Tennessee election laws, the use of “independent expenditures” can be legal to advocate for either the election or defeat of a clearly identifiable candidate “which is not made with the cooperation or with the prior consent of, or in consultation with, or at the request of, or suggestion of, a candidate or any agent or authorized committee of the candidate.”

York’s report goes on to say, “There are also various emails from an individual identifying himself as Mr. Jesse Kerley to representatives of Voice Broadcasting relating to how the poll would be conducted, the number of individuals who would be contacted, what would be said and the number from which the calls were purportedly being made.”

The letter concludes its report on the facts of the investigation, saying, “The robocalls were basically set up so that when the recipient of the call received the call, it reflected that the call came from the number assigned to Crossville City Hall. As a result, many return phone calls were made to the Crossville City Hall, causing a substantial disruption of city business after each series of robo calls were made. Clearly the City of Crossville was a victim.”

York says that the crime is a class “A” misdemeanor, punishable by fine only. He continues, “We would have to have an individual testify that could authenticate or testify to the above facts.” York’s letter says that would involve paying for travel, lodging and meals for possibly two individuals from Voice Broadcasting in Arlington, TX. In addition, they would have to arrange for the TBI analysts to testify.

“In light of the great amount of expenditures and costs associated with further prosecution of the case, it is my decision not to proceed with prosecution," York wrote. "In my estimation, this would be an unwise use of taxpayer dollars to proceed.”

York added he does intend to speak to state representatives about increasing the penalty for this crime. A copy of York’s letter was also sent to Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett, whose office oversees elections.