KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – Months after the John R. Hay House closed with little explanation, an investigative report shows that the facility closed in part because of problems with the director’s son-in-law, a convicted felon.
The nonprofit closed in June after almost 40 years of providing the community with its only alternative-sentencing program for offenders. News Channel 11 learned that the facility’s board of directors elected not to renew a contract with the Tennessee Department of Corrections, and operations ceased.
But questions still lingered, and an investigative report from the Comptroller’s Office released on Tuesday showed that the Hay House’s issues with nepotism contributed to its closing.
A felon, a knife and a missing background check
The Hay House was funded partially through a grant with TDOC. A director and the nine-member board governed the entity.
In December 1997, the facility employed the director’s son-in-law, a convicted felon. He worked as a transportation officer until July 2000, when he was fired for smuggling a knife to one of the inmates and either paid or planned to pay that inmate to hurt another inmate, the report said.
He pled guilty to attempted second-degree murder, a Class C felony.
The Hay House hired the director’s son-in-law again in 2014, the report said, and he rose to become the organization’s facilities manager by 2018.
The investigation unearthed background checks on the son-in-law, but the report notes them as “questionable” since they didn’t include his prior criminal history. The Hay House supplied receipts from the background check vendor, but not the results of the check.
The Hay House’s contract with the TDOC dictates that the facility must perform pre-employment background checks on all staff who will supervise inmates, with annual follow-up background checks.
Nothing in the contract or Hay House policy manual says that the employee must pass the checks, but the report notes, “it should reasonably be expected that the purpose of background checks is to ensure employees involved with supervising and rehabilitating persons with criminal records do not have criminal records themselves.”
The director’s son-in-law retained his employment at the Hay House into 2018. According to the report, he was indicted on five counts of theft for instances in early 2018, after he and an offender from the organization stole items from a Kingsport store while purchasing supplies for the Hay House.
According to the report, the son-in-law turned himself in to police in April. The report says that the director of the Hay House witnessed his arrest, but the son-in-law remained on the entity’s payroll until June 2018. According to records, he was terminated for “lack of work” due to “budget cuts.”
The grounds of his termination allowed him to file for unemployment benefits in July. Timesheets of the employee show the Hay House paid him vacation time and other absences that aren’t included in the organization’s policy, the report said.
According to the report, the son-in-law amassed more than $7,000 in “questionable gross compensation.”
The report says that the son-in-law’s salary was paid through the grant with TDOC.
The report also notes that the Hay House employed a registered sex offender as a cook for two months in 2018. The employee worked at the facility from August until October.
The Hay House was unable to provide a personnel file on the employee, so investigators couldn’t determine if his job warranted a background check per the contract with TDOC.
“As a JRHH employee, he likely had regular interactions with and supervisory roles over TDOC offenders,” the report notes. “The hiring of this employee by JRHH may have put the safety of JRHH offenders and other employees at risk.”
The investigation revealed that TDOC wasn’t aware that the Hay House employed two convicted felons until after they were terminated or that employees used leave in violation of the organization’s policy.
“Certain management employees, including but not limited to the administrative secretary (director’s wife) and the facilities manager (director’s son-in-law), received vacation, sick, and excused leave although no leave was authorized in the JRHH personnel policies.”
The report says it was unable to determine the total questionable leave taken by employees because of “inconsistencies between timesheets” and resulted in “certain questionable compensation paid to the director’s son-in-law.”