MORRISTOWN, Tenn. (WATE) – The Hamblen County trustee was indicted Thursday on 40 counts of failure to deposit public funds involving nearly $90,000 in county money.
An investigation by the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation resulted in the indictment of John Baskette, the current trustee of Hamblen County.
Investigators determined that Baskette withheld $89,478.81 in cash that was collected by the trustee’s office between Nov. 5, 2018, and Dec. 8, 2018, a news release from the state Comptroller’s Office said.
Baskette admitted that he hid the undeposited cash in various locations in his office because he feared carrying large amounts of cash alone to the bank for deposit, according to the release.
About a month after the Comptroller’s Office began its investigation, Baskette deposited all of the missing money in the county’s account.
However, the investigation revealed that Baskette also withdrew $88,520 from his personal bank accounts in the days prior to depositing the missing cash in the county’s account.
Richard Talley, attorney for Baskette, said: “What’s being left out of all of this is that there is no money missing. This was a clerical and accounting issue and they have been corrected. We will vigorously defend Baskette in this case.”
The investigation found that Baskette was in debt to several individuals for equipment sales, cattle sales, and personal sales. Many of these individuals stated Baskette requested transactions be done in cash.
After depositing the missing money in January 2019, Baskette and a family member opened a joint checking account with a $450 check from the family member on Feb. 4. The family member then obtained a loan for $89,000 and placed the loan proceeds into the joint account.
Baskette used the loan proceeds to pay his debts to three individuals via certified checks. The $89,450 Baskette received from his family member was nearly the same amount of cash he withheld from the trustee’s office collections.
Baskette, who is responsible for collecting property tax payments in Hamblen County, had not paid $1,285 he owed the county for his own 2018 property taxes as of June 30, 2019, according to the news release.
On Thursday, Baskette was indicted by the Hamblen County Grand Jury.
The indictments included 40 counts of failure to deposit public funds, two counts of official misconduct, one count of destruction of government records, one count of theft over $60,000, and one count of worthless check over $1,000.
“County offices have a responsibility to establish and follow rules that ensure taxpayer money is protected,” said Comptroller Justin P. Wilson. “This case underscores the importance of depositing all money received within three days of collection and performing timely and routine bank reconciliations.”