COOPER RESIGNS! - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NC5 Investigates: Capitol HIll Corruption



He was once one of the most powerful members of the state Senate.

But, now, Jerry Cooper has resigned.

It comes as the lawmaker prepares to ask state regulators for mercy for his misuse of campaign funds.

And it follows a string of disclosures by our chief investigative reporter Phil Williams.

For 23 years, he's been a Capitol Hill fixture.

But, in the end, it was a series of ethical and legal missteps that forced Cooper to resign.

Four years ago, an exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation exposed how the Warren County Democrat -- then the chairman of the powerful Senate Commerce Committee -- tapped into his political connections for his own benefit.

Faced with a piece of land that he could not sell, Cooper convinced state officials who came before his committee to approve funding for a railroad connection to that land, using $300,000 of your money.

Government watchdogs were appalled.

"It's an outrageous act by a sitting legislator -- one of the worst I've ever seen, in fact," said Charles Lewis, then with the non-partisan Center for Public Integrity.

Still, the Senate's ethics committee said it didn't see anything wrong with what Cooper had done.

But a federal grand jury indicted him on bank fraud charges, stemming from that same land deal.

While awaiting trial, Cooper totaled his SUV while driving drunk down I-24. He later pleaded no-contest to DUI charges.

Then, a jury acquitted him of the bank fraud charges.

Still, as NewsChannel 5 first revealed, evidence presented at Cooper's trial showed how he had illegally pocketed 95-thousand dollars from his campaign accounts.

Williams asked Cooper's lawyer, Jerry Summers, "Is there any doubt that the was pocketing campaign funds that he should not have been?"

Summers replied, "Well, I think there were some funds that should have not been transferred to his personal account, Phil."

Last month, state regulators at the Registry of Election Finance hit Cooper with an unprecedented fine of $120,000.

It's a fine that the veteran senator says he cannot pay -- which led to his resignation and hopes that the end of his career will bring an end to questions about his conduct.

The Warren County commission will appoint a temporary replacement, who will hold the seat until an election in November of next year.

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