Note: This story has been updated to clarify and accurately reflect the criminal charges against Allison Burchett and her plea agreement. The original version of the story published Dec. 1, 2017, broadly described the criminal case against Allison Burchett as being for "stalking and cyber attacks" without specifying the exact charges and convictions. WBIR apologizes for any confusion.
(KNOXVILLE) Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett is denying a newspaper report he is somehow the topic of questioning by the FBI. Burchett blames the nebulous claims on dirty politics and his ex-wife, Allison, who is the only person named in the article that otherwise relies on unnamed sources.
"It's ridiculous is what it is. I've never been contacted by the FBI. It's a bunch of baloney. How do you take a story serious that uses three unnamed sources and my convicted ex-wife?" asked Tim Burchett. "They [political opponents] don't like the fact I'm running for Congress. I think they're just gutless. They're hiding behind these anonymous names."
Tim Burchett is currently running as a Republican in next year's primary for a seat in the U.S. House in Tennessee's 2nd congressional district. Burchett has served as Knox County Mayor since 2010 and previously served in the state legislature from 1995 to 2010.
The claims of FBI questions about Burchett were published simultaneously Friday morning in The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville and the Knoxville News Sentinel, both of which are owned by Gannett and are part of the USA Today Network - Tennessee. The article's byline lists its authors as two Nashville-based journalists with The Tennessean.
The article does not claim Burchett is the target of a federal investigation. It says four people claim the FBI has asked them questions about Burchett. The only person named in the article is Mayor Burchett's ex-wife, Allison. The article says she claims to have been working with the FBI since 2012.
The FBI's Knoxville field office reiterated to WBIR its long-standing policy of not confirming or denying the existence of any investigations. However, the Knox County District Attorney's office told 10News it found no proof when Allison Burchett made the same claim a few years ago as she faced criminal prosecution for illegally accessing the online accounts of the estranged wife of a man she was dating.
"She claimed to be an informant, but nothing ever materialized to substantiate her claims. We successfully prosecuted and convicted her of six crimes of moral turpitude," said Sean McDermott with the Knox County District Attorney's office.
The other unnamed sources include a "Knoxville businessman" and an attorney who provided a draft of a document that said Burchett's ex-wife was a confidential informant. The article does not say who the attorney represents.
Allison Burchett told 10News Friday night that she couldn't comment on an ongoing FBI investigation.
Mayor Burchett's office also issued the following written statement in response to the article from The Tennessean.
"For nearly eight years, I have worked to restore trust in Knox County Government by increasing transparency, focusing on the proper role and scope of government and being conservative in the use of taxpayer dollars. It's a shame to have my integrity and leadership called into question in a news story that leans heavily on the words of my now-convicted ex-wife and other anonymous sources. Until my office was contacted by a Nashville reporter midday yesterday, I was unaware of any alleged inquiry. In fact, I do not believe such an inquiry exists, and I ask the FBI to publicly state whether or not it does. Additionally, I welcome any questions they or any other agency may have. This is clearly an effort by my political enemies to smear my reputation, and the Tennessean has allowed itself to be a participant."
ALLISON BURCHETT CHARGES AND CONVICTIONS
Allison Burchett struck a deal and pleaded guilty in May 2017 to six misdemeanor charges for illegally accessing the online social media and bank accounts of Nicole Strickland in 2014. Nicole Strickland is the estranged wife of Bandit Lites chief Michael Strickland. Allison Burchett is dating Michael Strickland.
The plea deal resulted in Allison Burchett being sentenced to four years of probation for six misdemeanor convictions. Allison Burchett faced potential jail time if convicted of the original 13-count indictment. The 13 counts included six felony charges with accusations of identity theft and computer crimes. All felony charges were dismissed.
The victim impact statement by Nicole Strickland stated she was battling breast cancer while "being harassed, stalked and followed by Allison [Burchett]."
Nicole Strickland's impact statement conveyed to the court her cell phone was accessed by Allison Burchett and included "pictures I had taken of my breasts before and after my mastectomy and other surgeries related to my breast cancer. Allison posted these pictures on my Facebook page. Allison also sent these pictures to all of my friends, and my friends' friends, via Facebook. My father, nephews, niece, high school friends, my children's friends and Webb School parents all saw them."
The victim impact statement from Nicole Strickland also accused Allison Burchett of gaining online access to Strickland's prescription information at Walgreens as well as accessing her SunTrust bank records.
Nicole Strickland's impact statement concluded, "I believe that Allison Burchett is a cruel, self-centered and dangerous person. I believe that she lacks the moral compass necessary to monitor her own behavior. I just hope that the State keeps close tabs on her so that if and when she repeats this behavior against me or anyone else, you throw the book at her and that she spends a long time in jail."