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Board Fines Lawmaker for Campaign Spending

A Nashville lawmaker faces a hefty fine as a result of questions first uncovered by a NewsChannel 5 investigation.

State regulators gave Mary Pruitt a chance to answer questions about how she spent her campaign money.

But the Nashville Democrat was a no-show.

Pruitt's lawyer actually filed a lawsuit to try to keep the case from being heard.

But in the end, regulators fined her $10,000, saying there are just too many questions that she hasn't answered.

"You all set up an entrapment," Pruitt told NewsChannel 5 chief investigative reporter Phil Williams back in July.

That came as an exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation first raised questions about a house that she owns and the thousands of dollars that she paid herself out of campaign funds -- supposedly to rent it as a campaign office.

"NES says there was absolutely no electricity running into that house for the last nine months," Williams told Pruitt.

"And no water, that's exactly right," Pruitt responded. " And I'm so glad the people told me that you all have been over there checking on me and you can just keep right on checking on me, OK?"

After a complaint filed by Pruitt's Republican opponent, the state Registry of Election Finance gave her two months to answer his allegations that those payments were, in fact, illegal.

"There's enough information here to raise a question of whether it was appropriate," Registry member Marian Ott said.

Another board member, Karen Dunavant, commented:  "It was brought up in plenty of time for us to resolve the situation before the impending election."

The Nashville Democrat never submitted any explanation.

Instead, her attorney filed a lawsuit to try to keep the Registry from taking action -- at least, until after November's election.

"Ms. Pruitt could have showed up with her lawyer or she could have submitted a sworn statement with information," Ott later explained. "We had no choice but to act."

In fact, Pruitt's attorney -- in a conference call with reporters -- later accused the Registry of violating her rights by not changing its schedule to accommodate his or putting off a decision until next month.

"This is part and parcel of the culture of corruption that's going on on Capitol Hill," Pruitt's opponent, Jim Boyd, told reporters outside the Registry's meeting.

He says the fact that some of the rent was reported as payments to something called "MNP & Associates" -- even though the house is in her name -- shows she has something to hide.

Not so, she told us.

"You go get the TBI and the FBI and anybody else you want to come and investigate me, hear?"

Still, it's not over.

The Registry says she can ask them to reconsider.

And her lawyer says he could ask a court to rule that everything that happened today was itself illegal.

As to why Pruitt's lawyer didn't ask for conference call with the Registry or submit something in writing, he would only say that he doesn't practice law that way.

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