Attorneys for ex-longtime Knox County Trustee Mike Lowe and two of his former so-called ghost employees were in court Thursday to finalize trial dates and provide all parties with an update on when each side will get the information it's requested.
As it stands, Lowe will go to trial on Dec. 1; Ray Mubarak's will begin Nov. 5 and Delbert Morgan's will start on Aug. 18. The trials could last up to two weeks each.
Assistant District Attorney General Bill Bright noted that the dates have been changed a number of times because of "the massive amount of information" involved in the case. The defendants were initially set to go to trial in late 2013, and then later this summer.
On Thursday, he told Knox County Criminal Court Judge Steven Sword that his staff has turned over most of the data requested by the defense attorneys, but still has to provide and verify some cell phone records, and secure an expert witness.
He suggested that it would be a "very quick" turnaround.
Attorneys for the defendants declined to comment after Thursday's status hearing on the case.
Lowe, who formerly ran the county's tax collections office, turned himself over to authorities in late April 2012 after a grand jury that met in secret for more than a year charged him with multiple counts of felony theft of more than $60,000. The grand jury at the time also indicted a number of other former employees.
Lowe and Mubarak were charged with four counts each of theft of property exceeding $60,000 – Class B felonies that each carry $25,000 in fines and are punishable by eight to 12 years in prison.
Prosecutors say that two of the counts are connected to fraudulent payments to Mubarak and the other two counts are tied to fraudulent payments to Mubarak's titles search company, Tennessee Residential Services, according to court records.
Morgan and John Haun also were each charged with two counts of theft of property exceeding $60,000.
In addition, authorities charged Rhonda Jan Thomas with two counts of theft of an amount between $10,000 and $60,000.
All the charges stem from a state investigation launched more than five years ago.
Prosecutors say that Mubarak and Morgan were paid to do little if any work. Dubbed "ghost employees," the two each received $37,500-a-year salaries, vacation time and medical insurance for roughly four years.
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.
In addition, court records suggest that Lowe paid Mubarak's firm roughly $400,000 in a property title search scheme from part of 2007 through mid-October 2008.
Under the plan, the Trustee's Office would pay an abstractor $50 to perform a title search and create an abstract, which details the land's ownership. Then Lowe would pay Mubarak's business $250 per abstract. Records also show Mubarak received payments for abstracts that his company did not provide to the county.
Title searches are required for all tax sales to make sure the title is clear.
Prior to Lowe, the office paid an attorney $200 to perform the same work.