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Duncan requested delayed charges for time to help feds

6:57 PM, Aug 15, 2013   |    comments
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A little more than eight months ago, then-Knox County Trustee John Duncan III reached out to local prosecutors, asking them not to immediately seek charges against him so he could continue helping federal investigators on a separate matter.

Duncan, who was sentenced Thursday in a finance scandal tied to handing out bonuses for work that was never done, hoped that his cooperation would influence any charges and subsequent punishment the state would bring against him.

In a letter obtained by WBIR, Duncan also agreed to waive the statute of limitations for any charges, including "theft, official misconduct and all lesser included charges arising from payments made to me and to certain employees of the Knox County Trustee's Office in 2010 and 2011."

"I understand that the purpose of the statute of limitations is to protect me," he wrote in a Nov. 29, 2012, statement to Knox County District Attorney General Randy Nichols. "However, I believe that in this matter the statute of limitations would work to my disadvantage as opposed to my advantage since it will result in charges being brought against me before I can complete my cooperation with federal authorities and General Nichols has an opportunity to consider the full extent of my cooperation."

Duncan, 33, was granted judicial diversion Thursday on a felony charge - official misconduct - and sentenced to one year of unsupervised probation and fined $604. Under diversion, he can seek to wipe his record clean if he abides by the terms of his probation.

He is accused of giving himself and five other employees each a $3,000 bonus that was supposed to go only to those who attain the designation of "certified public administration," something none of them had achieved.

Local politicos and elected officials inside the City County Building where many top leaders work have long suggested that Duncan was working in some capacity with federal investigators, although no one seemed to know the details.

Duncan's statement, a one-page document buried in a case file kept by the Knox County Criminal Court clerk's office, is the first public pronouncement that he was in contact with the feds.

Just what he discussed, however, remains to be seen, as no one wanted to talk about the statement on Thursday.

U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Marshall Stone said "because the case has moved from the investigation phase to the prosecution phase, any comments would come from the United States Attorney's Office."

Sharry Dedman-Beard, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office East District of Tennessee, would only say: "We never confirm or deny any ongoing investigations."

Federal Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Kelly Kindness also did not return a call seeking comment.

Duncan's camp also declined to comment.

"I don't have anything else to say other than what I said outside the courtroom," said his attorney Jeff Hagood, referring to a few comments he made Thursday morning about how his client will work to rebuild his tarnished reputation.

Whether Duncan's cooperation worked in his favor also could more than likely go unanswered.

As she sentenced him to a year of unsupervised probation on Thursday, Knox County Criminal Court Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz said she would grant Duncan judicial diversion because he admitted that he did wrong and accepted responsibility.

She also cryptically noted that Duncan "has done some things that the attorney general has found to be helpful to him," but did not elaborate.

When contacted by WBIR, Nichols said: "I'll let the document speak for itself."

Nichols also declined to say whether Duncan's late November statement played a role in when he accepted his plea.  But, it came roughly two weeks before Duncan's ex-chief of staff, Joshua Burnett, and the office's former delinquent tax attorney, Chad Tindell, each pleaded guilty to facilitation of official misconduct, a misdemeanor. Both were sentenced to one year of probation and granted judicial diversion in their connection with the bonus payments.

In his statement, Duncan asked the attorney general to withhold "seeking charges against me for 90 days from this date to allow me to cooperate with federal authorities in separate matters and to allow District Attorney Nichols to consider such cooperation in disposing of any charges brought against me . . . ."

Duncan pleaded guilty to official misconduct on July 2.
When asked Thursday whether he planned to work out a deal with Duncan late last year, Nichols said "I'm really not allowed to say at this time."

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