Despite facing an indictment for her involvement in a marijuana growing operation, an east Tennessee Democrat running for Congress is proclaiming her innocence while noting that the situation reiterates the need for the country to decriminalize pot.
Florence "Flo" Matheson of Crossville, who is running for the 6th Congressional District seat occupied by U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., and Stephen Harrington are facing criminal indictment after authorities discovered more than 180 marijuana plants, guns and cash while searching a house and a barn at 16536 Genesis Road.
The address is the same one Matheson, 77, provided the secretary of state when filing paperwork to run in the August primary election.
"Some evidence of an illegal grow operation were found inside the residence, however, the full-scale cultivation was found in a large barn, just a few hundred yards away," authorities said in a statement. "The inside of the barn had been finished to create two separate tropical grow environments, with electrical service costing thousands of dollars annually to operate. Additionally, remote wireless surveillance equipment had been installed to monitor areas of the compound, including the locked gate at the driveway entrance."
The discovery came after the Crossville Police Department, the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office, the 13th Judicial Drug Task Force, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the district attorney general executed a search warrant for Matheson's property on May 13.
When reached on Tuesday, Matheson told WBIR’s partners at The Tennessean she is guilty of nothing more than "possessing a couple of ounces of marijuana." One ounce was for personal use and another was intended to be used for cannabis oil.
Matheson told The Tennessean she had no involvement and no knowledge of the growing operation that police discovered in a barn found on her property. The operation, she said, was actually being maintained by Harrington, 60, who lives in Matheson's home.
Matheson contested the description of the operation that police sent out to media, saying the surveillance equipment police said was installed to monitor areas of the compound was nothing more than a "dummy camera" pointed at her mailbox to deter whoever kept knocking it down.
She said the gated fence that police knocked down to gain access to her property was a 4-foot high hog wire fence that kept her donkeys, llamas and horse on her land.
"They made it sound like Bonnie and Clyde," she said, referring to the notorious criminals who robbed and killed people around the United States in the 1930s.
Harrington said police are blowing the situation out of proportion, noting that he had not sold marijuana to anyone in Crossville and was simply growing it to deal with the pain he's had as a result of his military service. He defended Matheson, saying, "The only thing this woman is guilty of is helping out a homeless disabled vet who betrayed her trust."
When asked if she believed the event would hurt her chances of seeking the Democratic nomination in August, Matheson said she was "going to work even harder now" for marijuana decriminalization, adding that more than half the country supports the legalization of the drug.
"They have motivated me," she said.
Spencer Bowers, a spokesman for the Tennessee Democratic Party, said the state party "does not condone illegal activity of any kind."
"We are confident that the authorities will take the necessary steps and complete their investigation," he said.
This is the second time Crossville police found Harrington, who is serving three years of supervised probation, involved in a growing operation.