|Ethics complaint: Tim Burchett never reported $10,000 payment while
in state Senate
A Loudon County woman says she filed an ethics complaint against Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett for failing to disclose a $10,000 payment from an electronics company.
On Thursday, Melissa McCoy said she filed the complaint with the state Ethics Commission. The complaint stems from Burchett's time in the state Senate and also alleges he sponsored a bill that would impact the company he received the payment from.
Through a spokesman, Burchett said the $10,000 payment was a "finders fee he received for connecting the company with an investor."
Burchett, a candidate in the Second District Congressional race, said he plans to fix the fact that he left the payment off his statement of interest, calling it an oversight.
"As soon as I was made aware of this oversight, I contacted the state to inquire about amending the filing so that it's accurate moving forward," Burchett said.
Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, said Thursday he could not confirm the existence of such a complaint.
“Ethics complaints are confidential and thus we cannot comment on whether a complaint is filed or not,” he said.
While Burchett works to amend his statement of interest, he could still face a fine for the oversight. Last year, for instance, the state Ethics Commission fined former lawmaker Jeremy Durham $30,000 for not fully disclosing his financial investments, which is a violation of state law.
A violation could result in a $10,000 penalty.
McCoy’s complaint includes a copy of a federal 1099 tax form given to Burchett by Electronic Magnetic Power Solutions. The electronics company, which lists an Oak Ridge address, paid Burchett $10,000 in 2008, according to the document, which was also posted on Twitter on Tuesday.
Burchett’s statement of interest, which all lawmakers have to file, did not disclose the company as a source of income. The only sources of income he reported were rental property in Knoxville and eBay sales. He did not disclose the payment from EMPS on his statement of interest the following year, either, records show.
The 2008 payment from EMPS to Burchett came the same year the former Republican lawmaker sponsored a bill that would require all smoke detectors installed after Jan. 1, 2009 to be photo-electric devices, according to the complaint. The measure failed to become law, despite being approved in the House by a 94-3 vote.
Experts recommend photo-electric smoke alarms, which require less frequent battery changes.
In a December 2008 letter to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, EMPS described itself as a “power electronics technology company” that tries to “develop and deliver inverter and converter products for photovoltaic and other renewable energy sources.”
Michael Grider, a spokesman for Burchett's mayoral office, said EMPS has "nothing to do with" smoke detectors and the legislation in question is unrelated to the company.
David Ball, who is president of EMPS, said the company has never had anything to do with smoke detectors.
"Our stuff is mandated by (the U.S. Department of Energy) to be with alternative energy. So it would be wind farms or hydrogen or it could be solar cells on a house," But we're mandated by law...that it is only for alternative energy and doesn't have anything to do with smoke detectors."
Grider and Ball said the 2008 payment to Burchett was the only one the Knoxville Republican has received from the company, which Burchett's father, Charles Burchett Sr., initially helped start.
Ball said Burchett Sr. held stock in the company until he died in 2008.
"Right now, Tim does not have any stock in the company and neither does his brother Charlie. It's actually still being held in the estate of (the Burchett's) parents," Ball said.
The same year Burchett received the payment, he was fined $250 by the Registry of Election Finance for failing to disclose three PAC contributions totaling $1,500.
Beyond the $10,000 payment and the legislation, McCoy's complaint alleges other connections between Burchett and EMPS, including two of the company’s former employees.
One is William G. Haynes, who in the complaint is identified as the company’s “director, vice president of business development and shareholder."
In her complaint, McCoy says that Haynes and Burchett have a “close long-time relationship.”
In an interview Thursday, Haynes said he recalls the payment to Burchett.
"I'm not the accountant, I kind of think it did (happen) but I don't know. I wasn't in on that, so to speak," he said. "I think the documentation speaks for itself."
Haynes said he was with EMPS from the company's inception until last year.
McCoy's complaint also states that Mike Crowder, who is currently serving on the Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission after being appointed by Burchett, is listed as a contact for the company.
Crowder said he has had no involvement with the company, adding he's never heard of EMPS. Haynes said he did not know if Crowder was involved in the company.
In an interview, McCoy said she filed the complaint after initially seeing the 1099 on Twitter.
“If it’s true, then I’d like to see him answer for it,” she said, while praising Burchett for being a fiscal conservative while serving as Knox County mayor. “I find it hard to believe he’s done something like this but if he has done something like this then it needs to be looked into.”
McCoy said the complaint against Burchett was her first and only complaint filed with the state Ethics Commission.
McCoy said she has known both Tim Burchett and his ex-wife Allison Burchett for years, adding that she did not communicate with Allison Burchett about the complaint.
When reached by telephone, Allison Burchett said she was unaware of McCoy’s complaint.
“There’s nothing malicious in my heart for him aside from the fact that I just want the truth to be out there,” McCoy said.
The former Farragut resident said while she’s “looking at supporting” U.S. Rep. Diane Black’s bid for governor and Rep. Jimmy Matlock, who is one of Burchett’s opponents in the Second District Congressional race, the complaint was not politically driven.
“I’m just tired of the arguments and the mudslinging,” McCoy said.
McCoy has not given money to either of Matlock's federal or state political committees.
Sean Lansing, senior adviser to Matlock's campaign, seized on the ethics complaint, saying the latest allegations against Burchett "fit a troubling pattern of behavior."
Andrew Davis, Burchett's campaign manager, blamed the ethics complaint on Allison Burchett and accused the Matlock campaign of "colluding" with her to "score political points."
The complaint against Burchett comes two months after four people told the USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee federal agents have asked them questions about the Knox County mayor.
It is unclear what the FBI is investigating and whether Burchett is a target. The people interviewed said federal agents asked about issues including possible tax evasion, potential bribery and a county contract.
Burchett has repeatedly rejected the report.