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Rental scam causes trouble for Sevierville property owners, renters
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SEVIERVILLE — When Deborah Osborne came to do some upkeep on her late father-in-law’s home on Hardin Lane last month in preparation of selling it, she found her key did not work and people had moved into the home.

She soon found out the young family were also victims who had learned about the property on a Facebook Marketplace listing and sent thousands of dollars by a cash app to a scammer posing as the property owner.

“I was in panic mode, because I couldn’t get in our house and people were living in our house. If the people hadn’t showed up and were honest with the police officer we wouldn’t have gotten in the house that day,” Deborah Osborne said.

“At that point I felt sorry for them. They looked like they didn’t have much. He had sold his truck to get the money,” Osborne said. “They were so excited they finally got a house they could afford.”

They had sent approximately $2,800 to the scammer, according to Sevierville Police reports. The young man even had a lease agreement and explained that they had entered the home through a screen door and window.

The young couple were not the only people to be fooled by ads placed regarding the property. A young mom with a 3 year old also lost what little money she had due to the scam.

Trayci Howard sent her last $50 as a down payment to try and hold the property and went to look at it when she saw the sign that had been posted in the window that the house was not for rent.

“We loved the house, but when I saw the sign I said we didn’t get this house,” Howard said. “I was broke down about it two or three days because me and my family have been wanting a home.”

Howard said she was facing homelessness that day, but found a room at a local hotel.

The Osbornes and realtor Jon Dempersmier have seen nearly identical ads for the property pop up on social media in the time since Deborah first went to the property on Feb. 26. Dempersmier said they know of at least five people who have interacted with the scammer, but only two incidents where someone paid the scammer.

“They are preying on people who want so bad to find an affordable house,” Dempersmier said.

The have taken steps to be alerted when a posting related to the address is placed on Facebook and also keeping an eye out for any other online activity regarding the address.

The most recent marketplace posting was Wednesday, which Bruce Osborne was alerted to and quickly reported.

Dempersmier has even corresponded with the scammer, showing text conversations where he pretended to be interested in renting the home. His conversation with the scammer is similar to the conversations others had, with the price ranging between $800 and $900. The scammer also gives reasons he cannot meet the would-be tenant at the home.

During the back and forth, Dempersmier later admits he is a real estate agent.

“I am the Realtor representing this property and we are now marking the property as a scam on Facebook,” Dempersmier tells the scammer in a text message. “Just FYI, the young couple you ripped off last week is now in a terrible situation affecting not just them, but especially their little children. I hope you feel good about that.”

Dempersmier said he has written to Facebook but as of press time had not gotten any response.

SPD are investigating the scams, hoping to use electronic means to track down and identify the suspect.

Dempersmier and the Osbornes hope Facebook will do something so that other victims do not get hit with the scam.

“It won’t stop until they get caught. They’ll just move on to another home,” Dempersmier said.

Book characters on parade
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SPD receives fifth accreditation award
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FRANKLIN — Sevierville Police Department was recently re-accredited by the Tennessee Law Enforcement Accreditation program (TLEA).

The TLEA program is administered by the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police. SPD was initially accredited by TLEA in 2010, and is one of only a handful of Tennessee law enforcement departments to receive their fifth accreditation award.

To receive accreditation, SPD was required to demonstrate ongoing compliance with over 160 law enforcement standards that measure performance throughout the agency, including patrol, criminal investigations, dispatch, records and administrative components. SPD must show that they follow best industry practices in all areas of law enforcement.

Every three years, a team of assessors evaluates the department’s adherence to the program standards through an exhaustive review of agency files and an on-site inspection of department personnel, facilities and equipment.

“Adherence to TLEA standards is a testament to the dedication and professionalism of the men and women throughout our department,” SPD Chief Joseph Manning said. “The continued support shown by our community and Board of Mayor and Aldermen is an important component of our success.”

Penny and Patrick with their adopted son, Ayden, 9, and son, Colton, who was born by IVF. The Florida couple returned to Sevier County and visited LeConte Medical Center to show Ayden where they first became a family nine years ago. The parents went through an adoption agency and were selected by a birth mother from the area.


Re-entry event helps with transition to life outside of jail
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SEVIERVILLE — The Sevier County Sheriff’s Office held a One Stop Re-Entry Shop event Thursday afternoon at the American Job Center to help justice-involved individuals have success transitioning from incarceration to the free world.

“We do our best to eliminate the barriers of returning back to jail, so they don’t come back,” said Cpl. Samuel Rautbord, SCSO re-entry specialist. “It’s the most important thing we can do because when they get out and they’re successful, it affects more than just them, it affects their families, it affects the community they live in.”

The event included a job fair and also provided access to community resources, legal aid, and recovery services. Rautbord said every person they help transition successfully is one less person who could have a negative impact on the community if they fall back into the choices that previously led them to incarceration.

“It’s preventing crime from a different direction,” he said. “It’s for more than just people who have been incarcerated, but the families of people who have been incarcerated as well, because the more people who have these resources, the more people will know about them and be able to use them.”

The event on Thursday was the first in what’s planned to be quarterly similar events, and the Sheriff’s Office expects it to grow as more people learn about the services offered. The American Job Center is located at 1216 Graduate Drive, Sevierville.

“The work we’re doing here is immense,” Rautbord said. “I don’t imagine people know the scope of what can be done here. They’re not just getting informed, they’re providing resources today here in the building. They’re leaving with the ability to be able to go and be successful and eliminate those barriers.”

For more information, contact Rautbord at

SCSO 'Solutions' event for New Center March 28

SEVIERVILLE — The Sevier County Sheriff’s Office will visit the New Center community March 28 for its second “Solutions” event.

New Center School will host the event, which will run from 5-7 p.m. March 28. There will be food and refreshments from Chubby’s Deli.

The neighborhood events are a new outreach started by Sheriff Michael Hodges; the first one was held last year in Wears Valley.

“It’s a complete community event trying to spend some time with the community and get some feedback from them on what we can do better and what we’re doing well,” he said.

The goal is to bring representatives of the sheriff’s office out to the community so that people can meet with them in a relaxed setting in their own neighborhoods.

Representatives of the different divisions can talk about their role with the sheriff’s office, and in some cases demonstrate some of the equipment they use in their work.

But it’s also a chance for residents to talk about concerns in their neighborhood, whether it’s something affecting an individual or a single business, or a more general issue.

“Our hope is to visit with them, find out what they like, things they don’t like and things we can improve,” Hodges said.

The sheriff has said his goal is to bring the events to different communities throughout the county, and to hold one about once every quarter of the year.