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Trustee's office employee hires attorney because of criminal investigation

7:07 PM, Jan 20, 2012   |    comments
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Knoxville defense attorney Greg Isaacs has confirmed to 10News that he is representing Knox County Trustee employee Zach Brezina.  Isaacs said a criminal investigation into the Trustee's office is underway. 

"Zach did not violate any state or federal laws. Anything he did was at the direction and knowledge of his supervisors," Isaccs said in a phone interview Friday morning.

Isaacs would not identify who is leading that investigation.  TBI spokesperson Kristin Helm said Friday morning she could not comment on the matter.

According to Knox County Human Resources, Brezina was hired as an Analyst in the Trustee's office on September 13, 2010.  His annual salary is $37,079.19.

The Trustee's office tells 10News Brezina is at work and is not on administrative leave during the investigation.  Trustee John Duncan, III had no comment Friday on Isaac's statement.

Brezina is one of six employees in the Trustee's office, including Duncan, who Duncan approved bonuses for taking the CTAS course, even though they had not completed it. Some of the course work and exams for CTAS are done on a computer.

Knox County Commissioner R. Larry Smith complained about those bonuses. Under state law, the bonuses are not to be handed out until employees finish course work, a final exam, and a seminar.

Last week, Duncan, and the employees agreed to pay the money back.  10News has confirmed with the county finance department that Duncan, and all but one other employee had paid back $33,000 worth of bonuses in full by Thursday afternoon.  Brezina was the only employee who had not paid the money back.

Friday morning, the county finance department confirmed to 10News that Brezina has paid pack $6,000 in bonuses he received for taking, but not completing, the CTAS. 

Previous Story:

The Knox County Trustee's office is coming under more fire.  Last month, 10News told you that Trustee John Duncan was caught giving out bonuses to himself and five other employees for finishing the County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS) program when they had not completed it. 10News has learned that some of those employees may not have taken tests for the course themselves.

County Commissioner R. Larry Smith tells 10News he has notified the District Attorney General's office that a Trustee employee may have taken a CTAS test for other employees enrolled in the program.

Knox County officials have confirmed to 10News that the Trustee's office handed over a laptop computer to them yesterday that could have been used in that alleged cheating. It is currently locked up up where it will stay until further notice. Officials are all stopping short of confirming a criminal investigation at this point.

Commissioner Smith said he initially contacted the TBI on Wednesday with the allegations after getting a tip from what he said is a "credible" source.  A TBI spokesperson tells 10News they have not received a request to investigate. They directed Commissioner Smith to District Attorney General Randy Nichol's office.  D-A spokesperson, John Gill, said he cannot confirm if an investigation has been opened.

Knox County Law Director Joe Jarrett tells 10News, Mayor Tim Burchett, notified him of the allegations. Jarrett forwarded the information to the District Attorney's General's office because it is "criminal" in nature. If cheating is involved, that could be considered fraud.

Commissioner Smith said he can't say much now because he is a witness in the case.

"I have several people that have come forward, and I know personally, and I stand behind them, and they have nothing to gain from this. It is regrettable, but I believe my sources, and they're ready to go to back," said Commissioner Smith.

Duncan had approved $6,000 incentive payments for himself and five other employees, for taking the CTAS course, but not completing it. Some of the course work and exams for that are done on a computer.

Commissioner Smith complained about those bonuses. Under state law, the bonuses are not to be handed out until employees finish course work, a final exam, and a seminar.

Last week, Duncan, and the employees agreed to pay the money back.  10News has confirmed with the county finance department that Duncan, and all but one, employee have paid back the money in full.

The Trustee's office issued 10News a statement about those payments today, but did not acknowledge the computer being seized by the county or a possible criminal investigation. 

"It was my impression upon taking office that incentive payments could be made to those participating in continuing education programs as long as efforts were being made to complete the programs. These payments were also authorized by the county's budget procedures. Although, I along with other employees, spent a considerable amount of time on the course work, I now believe I made a mistake in accepting and authorizing those payments," Duncan said in the statement.

"I have voluntarily paid back to Knox County every nickel of the money I received. Similarly, our employees have either paid back or will immediately pay back payments they received. Furthermore, as an additional step to erase any misconceptions, the Trustee's office will no longer participate in the University of Tennessee's County Technical Assistance Service program. No additional incentive payments shall be made during the remainder of my term for participation, completion or involvement in any type of continuing education programs. While my position on this is what I feel is the right thing to do for the Trustee's office given the circumstances, this particular program is a fine one that I'm sure other county offices are using and finding worthwhile," Duncan continued.

"I'm proud of the work of our office in increasing county revenues while reducing expenses, and I look forward to continuing our hard work for the people of Knox County. And we will certainly cooperate fully with any branch of county government regarding any of the operations of our office."

As 10News reported three years ago, the TBI is still investigating the Trustee's office for mis-spending of funds, mis-use of overtime, and for a former book-keeper over-paying himself.  That all allegedly happened under former Trustee Mike Lowe. No one has been arrested or convicted as a result of that investigation.  A TBI spokesperson said Wednesday that it has not been closed, and is still on going.

 

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