Senator Gets Record Fine For Pocketing Money - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NC5 Investigates: Capitol HIll Corruption

Senator Gets Record Fine For Pocketing Money

Updated:

State Sen. Jerry Cooper may have made history Wednesday, but it's nothing to brag about.

A state board hit him with a record fine for illegally pocketing money from his campaign.

At the heart of the decision: evidence first obtained by our chief investigative reporter Phil Williams.

The fine: $120,000!

That's more than any other Tennessee politician has ever been fined by the board that regulates how candidates spend their money.

But in the end, the board decided that the senator left them no choice.

The Registry of Election Finance wanted to give Cooper a chance to defend himself. But the senator didn't show up, didn't even send a letter.

"I think we have before us unrebutted evidence of egregious misappropriation of campaign funds," Registry chairman Will Long noted.

The board made its decision based on evidence introduced at Senator Cooper's trial on bank fraud charges.

Even though Cooper was found not guilty on those charges, Government Exhibit 31 showed repeated checks written off the Warren County Democrat's campaign account and deposited into his personal account.

All totaled, over a two-year period, more than $95,000.

"You have lots of very small donors who entrust you with their campaign contributions," board member Patricia Heim said.

Registry members called it a breach of trust and voted to fine him $120,000 -- the amount he took, plus a penalty.

"I just think we're getting into an astronomical size here that I don't think is absolutely necessary," member George Harding insisted.

Harding, a Democratic appointee, wanted to cut the fine to just $10,000.

"Ninety-five thousand is serious money and these actions have taken us there," Long responded. "We haven't gone there on our own."

But even with the vote, a Republican spokesman says Cooper also owes Tennesseans some answers about his campaign reports.

"If those reports were not accurate by $95,000 several years ago, are his reports accurate today?" Bill Hobbs asked. "I think that needs to be looked into and needs to be asked."

Cooper could ask the Registry to reconsider the $120,000 fine, but he probably would have to come before the board and offer up some explanation.

After NewsChannel 5 Investigates obtained those checks and bank statements, Cooper's own attorney said that the senator and his wife "may have been short and may have done it."

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