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NewsChannel 5 Investigates: Friends in High Places

Sundquist Papers Provide Peek into Friends and Favors

(Story created: 5/3/04)

A federal criminal investigation is targeting insider contracts given to friends of former Gov. Don Sundquist. Now, Sundquist's own papers are providing a look into the world of friends and favors that may be behind those allegation.

And what we discovered is getting the attention of investigators.

In the bowels of the state library, hundreds and hundreds of boxes left over from the Sundquist administration provide a peek into the past.

With a lower-level Sundquist appointee now facing indictment, accused of helping to rig a $2 million state contract for friend-of-the-governor John Stamps, Sundquist's own papers may hold clues about a culture where something like that could happen.

"I think it shows a pattern, I think it shows an environment, I think it shows an attitude," says WWTN-FM talk radio host Steve Gill.

For example, in 1999, the same year that the Sundquist team approved the no-bid contract for Stamps' company, there's also correspondence with another Sundquist friend.

At a time when thousands of Tennesseans were clamoring to get access to their newly opened adoption records, the governor's friend did not want to wait.

So Sundquist scribbled: "Please have someone do this for her. Thanks, Don."

Sundquist's assistant forwarded it to state officials with the note: "Please see if you can help her out. She is a friend of the Governor's."

"I assured the people at the time that that was not going to happen -- it was first-come, first-served," say Rep. Joe Fowlkes, D-Cornersville, who passed the law that opened the records.

And Sundquist's papers show one of his own commissioners warned that it would violate the state's rules to give preferential treatment to the governor's friend.

Then, something happened.

"Per Peggy at CS," Sundquist's assistant wrote, "she's moved to head of list."

"I'm somewhat offended by it," Fowlkes adds, "because I misled some people -- apparently they could go to a politician and get around the rules."   The friend, Alice Garrigus, told NewsChannel 5 that her efforts were "none of your business."

There's also correspondence between the governor and longtime friend William H. Morris. Morris was a trade consultant who headed a company called Global Associates.

"Bill Morris was the go-to guy," Gill recalls. "He was who you had to do business with if you were going to be playing in the international arena with the Sundquist administration."

The notes detail how Sundquist agreed to appoint Morris' son, Bob, to take his father's place on some industry-related boards.

A short time later, the Morrises began helping Sundquist's son, Deke.

"I have already spoken with Deke a couple of times...," Bob Morris assured the governor, "and do believe we are going to be able to find some interesting projects...."

Deke Sundquist later became one of the principals in Global Associates.

"The fact that he was being treated as a 'player' in some of this correspondence, I think, says he was more of a chess piece than a real player," Gill says.

"He was being moved around the board to help the king."

A call to Global Associates seeking comment was not returned.

In addition, even though Sundquist had promised to voluntarily disclose any gift he received worth more than $100, the papers include thank-you notes for expensive favors that the governor accepted from special interests without telling taxpayers.

For example, there's a 1999 trip to the Kentucky Derby -- the jet provided by a highway contractor, other arrangements by liquor industry figures.

"We loved the Derby -- thanks for making it possible!" Sundquist wrote, signing it simply, "Don."

There were also extra tickets to the Fiesta Bowl, provided by the lobbyist for the state's road builders.

"Thanks very much for the tickets -- we put them to good use," the governor wrote.

In addition, there was a getaway on a jet provided by a banking executive.

"Thanks for the use of your plane," Sundquist wrote. "It was a needed and welcome break!"

And there was an escape to the mountains at an elegant resort, Blackberry Farm.

"If I can ever be of assistance to you..., don't hesitate to contact me," he concluded his thank-you note.

"There's an old saying in politics, it's good to be the king," Gill says. "Certainly, Don Sundquist was taking full advantage of the friends and the business interests that he had an opportunity to effect."

But Gill says he worries even more about what may not be in the boxes. "They were clearly making plans and making promises that are probably more expanded than what he put in writing."

And investigators are apparently concern about that, too.

FBI and TBI agents showed up to inspect the records after word got out about what our investigation had discovered. And library officials say agents are now trying to figure out if anything is missing.

That's because, on Dec. 30, 2002, the Sundquist administration suddenly asked that 27 boxes be returned from the state library.

Included was a file relating to a controversy over a multimillion-dollar contract given to Education Networks of America (ENA), a company started by a friend of the governor.

That request came just days after ENA was raided.

A state employee who was directed to retrieve the boxes tells NewsChannel 5 that she was recently interviewed by a TBI agent.

Neither Sundquist nor his attorney, Bill Farmer, responded to requests for their comment.

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