Who Investigates The Tennessee Bureau Of Investigation?

 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - When there are questions about a local police agency, authorities usually turn to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

But a recent state audit of the TBI raises questions about who can investigate the state's top investigators.

"Our auditors had a difficult time with this audit," said John Dunn, spokesperson for the Tennessee Comptroller's Office. "We had trouble getting all the information that we would like to have seen from TBI."

At issue was how the TBI utilized a $10 million single-engine turboprop first leased by the bureau in 2016. 

That audit noted that, "although we did not identify any misuse of the aircraft, we were forced to rely on verbal statements, emails, notes on calendars, and news articles, instead of unredacted documents."

 
(Click on image above to read audit report.)

"I think what we found at TBI was an attitude of 'trust us,'" Dunn said. "But for us that's not always good enough. We want to be able to verify as well."

Last year, state lawmakers provided $8 million dollars for the TBI to buy the Pilatus airplane that it already spent more than $2 million leasing.

They also directed state auditors to look at the bureau's books.

But when those auditors went to look at flight logs for the plane, they say the TBI blacked out some critical details.

TBI Director Mark Gwyn expressed surprise at Dunn's statements.

"When I sat down with the comptroller and their supervisor the first day, I said if you have any issues at TBI, you come to me," Gwyn told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

"They never came to me with any of what you're saying."

In an email response, Dunn said auditors did tell Gwyn's deputy director, Jason Locke, and the bureau's general counsel.

Still, Gwyn said the TBI could not share details relating to criminal investigations with state auditors who were trying to verify that the trips were legitimate -- because the bureau's case files are confidential.

"We can't let them in case files because it's illegal," the TBI director said.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates noted, "They say the law actually does give them access to case files for audit purposes."

Gwyn's response: "I guess that's something we'd have to go to court and find out."

All of that raises the question: who polices the TBI? 

If state auditors are not allowed to investigate the investigators, who does?

Last fall, our NewsChannel 5 investigation raised questions about nepotism inside the TBI.

Gwyn hired his deputy director's son -- even though the deputy director has full authority to make personnel decisions when the director is away.

(LISTEN: A TBI supervisor describes Mark Gwyn's reaction to NewsChannel 5's inquiries.)

At the time, Gwyn said he turned to his own people for advice about whether that was legal.

"His father does not hire nor fire anybody at TBI," he added.

We wanted to know, "Did you ask for an independent legal opinion?"

"I did not ask for an independent legal opinion," Gwyn acknowledged. "I trust my attorneys to give me the correct legal opinion."

When it came to the TBI's airplane, state auditors finally concluded that the agency's lack of transparency was a cause for concern.

"Without documentation that can be reviewed by appropriate individuals outside the bureau (such as auditors), management cannot assure the General Assembly and the public that the bureau's aircraft are used for legitimate purposes in support of the bureau's mission," the audit said.

 
(Click on image above to read state audit.)

Dunn's explanation: "We cannot say definitively that every flight was appropriate.  We can say that the evidence that we saw showed us there was no reason to believe that any weren't."

As for the TBI's resistance to allowing state auditors to have independent review of their case files, Gwyn made no apologies.

"I mean, that's the way the law is written," he said.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates noted, "Which leaves your agency essentially saying trust us."

Gwyn insisted, "We've got to follow that law."

Know of something we should investigate?
Email: investigate@newschannel5.com

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