Businessman Jess Davis says he started FBI inquiry into liquor issue
While being deposed as part of the election contest his organization filed, Concerned Churches and Citizens of Pigeon Forge Chairman Jess Davis says he was the person who started an FBI inquiry into liquor issues in Pigeon Forge long before the election.
Davis also names local businessman Ron Ogle as Davis’ source of information about a supposed clandestine meeting between city officials and legislators to get liquor by the drink approved by state mandate in a section of the city.
Davis, who owns the Biblical Times Theater and other businesses in Pigeon Forge, has said, since a Pigeon Forge City Commission meeting in 2012, that he had evidence Mayor David Wear, Vice Mayor Kevin McClure and City Manager Earlene Teaster were involved in secret meetings with state lawmakers. All denied it. Davis had refused, however, to divulge the source of his allegation.
The Mountain Press reported in 2012 that there had been a proposal in Nashville early last year to allow the sale of liquor by the drink in tourism development zones across the state, regardless of local laws regarding liquor sales. Pigeon Forge was the only city in Tennessee where liquor sales weren’t already allowed in those areas.
McClure and Wear both said at the time they weren’t involved in any such meetings and would oppose such measures. The bill was never introduced.
The Election Commission subpoenaed Davis and other members of CCCPF as it prepared its defense for the contest of election, scheduled to be heard next Thursday in Sevier County Chancery Court. A hearing is scheduled today before Chancellor Telford Forgerty on a request by the pro-liquor group to be made part of the election contest.
In his deposition, now filed in court, Davis admits contacting the FBI about the election months before it was held and to having contacted federal officials earlier.
“I contacted them because I’d had a previous meeting with one of their agents back during the summer and he told me if anything else came up to give him a call,” Davis said. “That’s who I called and he dispatched two other agents. Evidently they have been doing some investigation up here about what I told them back during the summer.”
Back then, he said, he told a person he identified as a former U.S attorney about his allegations that city officials tried to get liquor approved without a referendum for the city’s C-7 zoning district.
“We had four affidavits and a videotape about this Ron Ogle telling us what was going on down at Belle Island with the city commissioners and that representative, and he wanted me to tell that story to the FBI,” Davis said. He did not identify the representative.
He says he later gave the FBI information about that meeting and other alleged backdoor maneuvering by developers to get the proposal approved.
Ogle did not return calls Thursday seeking comment on this story.
Davis says he opposes liquor by the drink on religious principle. Speaking of himself in the third person, he testified, “Jess Davis did what his pastor taught him many years ago ... take a stand on liquor.”
He says he wanted CCCPF to file the contest of election, however, because of what he believes were errors in how the election was conducted. That includes about 300 votes that were apparently allowed from people who allegedly came to the Pigeon Forge precinct to vote in the general election, but lived outside the city and weren’t eligible to vote in the municipal election.
He also says he is concerned about votes by property owners that he believes should not have been allowed. While city law allows nonresident property owners to vote in municipal elections — Davis took advantage of that rule himself — he says some of the property owners who voted appear to have been given interest in city property without any transfer of funds.
Additionally, he testified, some addresses for residents appear to be fake.
City Commissioner Randal Robinson, also subpoenaed by the defendants, acknowledged he is a member of CCCPF and contributed $1,000 to the group.
He admits to having met with the FBI after the Nov. 6 referendum, but says he wants an attorney to represent him before he answers more questions about the matter.
Asked who was present with him at the meeting with the FBI, Robinson said, “I’m concerned with answering this, because this — as a city commissioner I feel that this has a lot to do with city business, and I think if I answer that I need to be represented by an attorney.” He later says the city charter calls for the city to provide representation if he is answering questions about city business at a deposition.
Attorney Dennis Francis, who represents the election commission, told Robinson he would be issuing a new subpoena seeking information on the meeting.
Among the other CCCPF officials deposed was its treasurer, Howard Reagan Jr., son of City Commissioner Howard Reagan.
Asked about some of the financial documentation for the group, Reagan Jr. testified he did not keep detailed records of their transactions.
“I was very sloppy in my bookkeeping,” he said in the deposition.