Extortion Attempt Reveals Senator's Possible Intern Affair
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - An alleged extortion attempt has exposed a possible sexual relationship between a prominent state senator and a young legislative intern.
That senator is Republican Paul Stanley from Memphis, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.
Authorities said he was the victim in the alleged extortion, but the case is certain to raise plenty of questions about Stanley and his family-values agenda.
Tuesday evening, NewsChannel 5 Investigates first obtained the arrest affidavit that lays out how Sen. Paul Stanley found himself at the center of this messy case. This all happened back in April, but it had been kept very quiet until now.
"When you're married, there's a commitment there," Stanley said last year, while discussing legislation to prohibit gay people from adopting children.
Authorities say the 47-year-old Stanley found his own conduct being questioned back in April by 28-year-old Joel Palmer Watts.
Watts was the boyfriend of a 22-year-old legislative intern, McKensie Morrison.
"When he came to us, he was very much in need of our help," said Kristin Helm, spokesperson for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
According to the arrest affidavit, "Watts discovered that Morrison was engaged in a sexual relationship with Paul Stanley. Watts discovered a memory disc with explicit photographs of Morrison. These photographs appeared to be taken in Stanley's apartment."
The affidavit adds that, "Releasing the photographs to individuals or the media would cause embarrassment, both professionally and personally to Stanley."
Then, the state senator began receiving demands from Watts for a $10,000 payment, the affidavit says. That's when Stanley went to TBI agents, who set up a sting.
"He felt as though he could be publicly humiliated. He knew that he was being extorted for an extraordinary amount of money," Helm said.
"We made a $10,000 controlled drop of cash in exchange for that memory disk."
Watts was arrested on extortion charges. He was also charged with theft. Those charges have since been dropped.
Tuesday afternoon, chief investigative reporter Phil Williams spoke with Stanley.
Stanley, who is married with two children, refused to say if he was involved in a relationship with Ms. Morrison. He later released the following statement:
"Unfortunately, I am the victim and a witness to crime in an ongoing investigation. At this time, I have been advised by authorities and the District Attorney's office not to comment. There is already misinformation being inferred regarding this matter which I look forward to clearing up at the appropriate time."
Our investigative team also spoke with Ms. Morrison. She also had nothing to say.
Speaking to Williams, Watts called the case "a tragic misunderstanding." "There is nothing more that I wanted to do than to expose this person for what he was," he added.
Stay tuned to NewsChannel 5 for all the latest developments on this developing story.