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Baumgartner faces federal drug charges, pleads not guilty

9:04 PM, May 15, 2012   |    comments
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Former Knox County judge Richard Baumgartner is charged with seven counts of misprision of a felony, which essentially means the "improper performance of a duty."

A federal grand jury in Knoxville returned a seven-count indictment against Baumgartner on Tuesday, May 15.  He was arrested later that afternoon, and made his first court appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge C. Clifford Shirley.

Baumgartner, 65, pleaded not guilty, and was released pending trial, which is set for July 18.  The conditions of Baumgartner's release include the following: he can only use two pharmacies located near his home, he must undergo random drug screenings and a drug and alcohol assessment, he cannot leave East Tennessee without permission from the court, he has supervised probation, he cannot obtain a passport, possess firearms, consume alcohol or illegally possess any drugs, and report any contact with law enforcement officers before they report it.  Baumgartner promised Judge Shirley he would follow the rules.

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Lewen told Judge Shirley that Baumgartner did pass a drug test after he was arrested on Tuesday afternoon.

The federal charges against Baumgartner relate to Deena Castleman, who had graduated from his Drug Court in 2006.  TBI investigators determined that Baumgartner and Castleman had a sexual relationship, and that she supplied him with prescription drugs.

According to the federal indictment, Castleman was part of a conspiracy to obtain and distribute controlled substances like hydrocodone, oxycodone, Percocet, Suboxone, Xanax, and Roxicodone, in Knox County.  The indictment says that Baumgartner had knowledge of Castleman's illegal activities from June 2009 to October 2010, but he did not report on them, and actually worked to help conceal those felonies.

If convicted, Baumgartner faces a term of three years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 on each count.

The former judge could also lose his pension, if convicted.

"Based on what folks have been able to find out, if he is convicted of a federal offense and it is related to his job, he would be subject to forefeit his pension benefits. But that all depends on him getting convicted, not just arrested," said Blake Fontenay with the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury.

Baumgartner is being represented by Don Bosch.  His office sent a release saying they learned about the indictment shortly after Baumgartner's arrest Tuesday afternoon, and only received a copy of the indictment after the hearing.  They will be releasing no further comments at this time.

Here's a recap on how we got to this point in the Baumgartner investigation:

In March 2011, Judge Baumgartner pleaded guilty to state charges of felony official misconduct. Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood sentenced Baumgartner to two years probation and granted him judicial diversion.

In December, the full details of Baumgartner's illegal activities were revealed when part of a TBI investigation was made public.

That investigation contained evidence of Baumgartner's addiction to painkillers, illegal drug deals, and abuse of drugs while on the bench.

Baumgartner's plea deal in March meant the state could not charge him, but federal investigators still had the option to bring charges.

Charges were brought forward Tuesday, May 15.

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10News has learned that agents with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation arrested former Knox County judge Richard Baumgartner Tuesday afternoon on federal charges.

The arrest happened at a gas station near the corner of Asheville Highway and John Sevier Highway in Knox County.

"We were looking out the window a little while ago and on John Sevier Highway you could see some undercover officers had pulled a car over," Arthur Clayton, manager of the Breadbox Shell Station. "The tow truck was first and it was towing the car in question that was pulled over.  There were three to four undercover cars around it.  And they just continued searching the car, things like that for about 15 to 20 minutes."

TBI spokesperson Kristin Helm cannot go into specifics about the charges.  Helm said the arrest does stem from the ongoing investigation into Baumgartner. 

He settled the state charges against him in March 2011, when he entered a guilty plea to one count of official misconduct, and agreed to step down from the bench immediately. He was sentenced to two years of judicial diversion, and, pending a clean two years, would not have a criminal record.

That guilty plea to state charges did not mean he could not face federal charges in the future if the investigation warranted them.

Helm also said that these charges would not affect his deal for judicial diversion, because these are not new allegations against Baumgartner.

In December 2011, the details and extent of Baumgartner's misconduct came to light, when Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood released a portion of the TBI report on Baumgartner.  Investigators found that Baumgartner was addicted to pain killers, and went to great lengths to obtain illegal prescription drugs to feed his addiction.

Judge Blackwood used that report to grant new trials in the high profile murder case of Channon Christian and Chris Newsom.

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