Fixing Tickets For Hams In Tennessee?

It looks like a few members of the Tennessee Highway Patrol have started playing by the same set of rules that Congress does with lobbyists:

“State troopers who fix tickets as favors — even for someone who gives them gifts — are not breaking the law, the Knox County prosecutor has determined for Gov. Phil Bredesen.

District Attorney General Randy Nichols informed Bredesen by letter yesterday that the “atmosphere” in which meat company employees in Knoxville may have given gifts to troopers, and then asked for favors from those troopers, would not have led to criminal charges.

Bredesen asked for a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation review of the case of Trooper Jerry Dean Watson after The Tennessean raised questions in late November. Investigative files suggested a wider pattern of troopers accepting ham from the company, possibly in trade for favors such as fixing tickets.

“This may well have created an atmosphere where Lay Packing Company employees felt comfortable in asking for ‘favors’; however, that would not be in and of itself a criminal offense,” Nichols wrote to Bredesen, in transmitting the TBI’s findings.

“In fact it is not a criminal offense if a trooper requests a prosecutor or a judge to dismiss the case as a ‘favor’ unless that request is in return for some direct benefit to the trooper.”

…In the interview, Nichols said no troopers or employees could be found to corroborate the gift-giving claims.

“There’s nobody that will own up that they had any clout with the Highway Patrol,” he said.

“This Bright fellow said, ‘I really don’t know, that’s what everybody said.’ I think that’s what happened — it was more legend than fact. To say somebody got a ham or a turkey, nobody owned up to doing that.”

Brandon Bright of Knoxville, who worked at the now-closed Lay Packing Co., was given a ticket by Watson in 2000. The trooper later fixed the ticket by forging the signature of the judge.

In his letter to the governor, Nichols said that even if fixing other tickets had been illegal, the statute of limitations has run out.

He said giving meat to troopers may have created an atmosphere where Lay employees felt they could ask troopers for favors. But that wouldn’t “in and of itself” be a criminal offense, Nichols wrote.

Bright told The Tennessean last month that he told the TBI in 2001 that it was “common knowledge” that people at Lay Packing got tickets fixed. “People around Lay’s knew about it,” and because everyone else was doing it, he thought he would give it a try, he said.”

In essence, what they’re saying here is that because there was no quid pro quo, because no one handed over any goodies and then specifically said, “Now take care of that ticket for me in return,” no crime was committed.

That seems wrong, doesn’t it? But, you realize that members of Congress do this every day of the week, right? Somebody sends them some money, tells them what they would like done, but doesn’t demand a straightforward tit for tat exchange.

In a way, that’s what makes the Abramoff scandal so ridiculous: because legalized “bribery” goes on 24×7 in Washington, 7 days a week, so it’s a wonder that anyone would feel the need to go above and beyond what’s already legal.

In any case, it’s always a shame when there’s a “for sale” sign over a government official, whether it’s a cop or a Congressman.

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