Trial begins for alleged "ghost employee" of trustee's office

The trial for a former Knox County Trustee's Office worker will focus on where he was.

And where he wasn't.

Attorneys for both sides presented opening statements Tuesday in the trial focusing on so-called ghost employee Delbert Morgan, a Grainger County resident who worked under ex-longtime Knox County Trustee Mike Lowe.

Assistant District Attorney General Bill Bright said Morgan, 58, did little if any work in the county's tax collection department between 2004 and 2008 when he was paid a salary of more than $31,000 as a field auditor.

Previous: Trial delayed for former Knox Trustee's Office 'ghost employee'

He told jurors that they will hear testimony from a number of current and former county employee who will say Morgan never received an ID card to gain access into the buildings where he worked and that he was "seldom" at work.

He said others will testify that field auditors earned overtime serving as clerks at the East Town Mall location, yet Morgan – who earned thousands in extra pay – was never there.

Bright also said the state has Morgan's cell phone records which will show that he was often out of the county, and even the state, during working hours. He noted that at one point Morgan was even paid overtime while on vacation in Hawaii.

Morgan's attorney, Jeff Daniel, though, said prosecutors don't understand the agreement Morgan struck with Lowe when he was hired.

"The state has taken an oral employment understanding, an agreement they weren't party to . . . and they've taken it upon themselves to set the parameters, the rules," Daniel said. "They've taken this employment agreement, which they basically created and said he breached it."

Daniel refuted Bright's allegations that Morgan earned $15 an hour, and said that he earned a salary to oversee a "surplus tax sales program" that Lowe created.

He said that under it, the county would take surplus land it acquired and sell it in order to place it back on the tax roll. He said Lowe relied on Morgan's expertise in real estate to oversee the operation.

"That was his agreement," Daniel told jurors. "He was paid for the work he did."

Morgan turned himself over to authorities in late April 2012 after a grand jury that met in secret for more than a year changed him with multiple counts of felony theft of more than $60,000.

Previous: Former Knox Co. Trustee Mike Lowe, employees indicted on theft charges

The grand jury at the time also indicted several other former employees, including Lowe, who was charged with a number of theft charges.

Also indicted was Ray Mubarak, another supposed ghost employee. Prosecutors said Mubarak also received money in a property title search scheme.

Morgan served as a field auditor and Mubarak worked as an office clerk and then a field auditor. They both abruptly resigned on March 8, 2008 – about the same time Fred Sisk, Lowe's successor, took over.

The theft charges are Class B felonies and each carries $25,000 in fines and are punishable by eight to 12 years in prison.

Prosecutors have set aside two weeks for Morgan's trial. Knox County Criminal Court Judge Steven Sword is presiding.

On Tuesday, current Trustee Craig Leuthold – who has worked in the office for more than 16 years – testified, mostly going over the overall operations of the department.


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