Lawmaker Threatens To Withhold Funds In Meth War

Posted at 7:34 PM, May 21, 2014
and last updated 2015-09-07 14:35:44-04

by Ben Hall
Investigative Reporter

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A prominent state lawmaker is sending letters to court clerks in all 95 counties and the director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation citing a NewsChannel 5 investigation into the state's war on meth.

Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, is demanding that they follow the law.

"When your report came out, I thought 'I am going to act instantly,'" Shipley told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

Our investigation revealed the law requiring Tennesseans to show their driver's license when buying cold medicine is not working properly. We found hundreds of convicted meth offenders were not blocked from buying pseudoephedrine, which is a key ingredient in meth.

"The wholesale disregard for this is shocking to me," Shipley said.

Our report showed some county court clerks never sent the names of convicted meth offenders to the TBI. As a result, the TBI never put their names on a list blocking offenders from buying the pseudoephedrine.

The county court clerk in Cannon County did not even know about the nine-year-old law until we asked her.

"Really I don't remember that we were ever asked to send orders to them for meth convictions," Lynne Foster said.

Cannon County has a large meth problem, but no one from the county is on the TBI's Meth Offender Registry - which blocks convicts from buying pseudoephedrine.

"Maybe we didn't do our job in notifying these people -- well, that stops today," Shipley said.

Shipley's letter cited the state law and encouraged the TBI and all county clerks to follow the law.

"This is the last time we are going to ask," the lawmaker added. "We're asking with a feather. Next year, we will use blunt force trauma and do things like hold your highway funds."

Our investigation also found 777 convicted meth offenders whose names were submitted to the TBI, but they were still not blocked from buying pseudoephedrine.

It led to finger pointing between the TBI and the private company that is supposed to block purchases.

"If the TBI tells us to block a person, we block them," said the vice president of Appriss.

Appriss is a private, for-profit company, paid by the drug companies to block inappropriate sales of pseudoephedrine.

The TBI responded, "We gave them 777 names.  They're the ones that allowed them to buy."

The TBI now admits that the agency never sent driver's license numbers of convicted offenders to Appriss as required by state law. They started sending the numbers immediately after our questions.

"I am somewhat bemused the TBI admits to making a mistake.  You don't hear that very often," Shipley said.

He said that his letter puts everyone on notice.

"If you can't comply with a simple request of the law, then we will supply the encouragement to comply," Shipley said.

County court clerks are about to have more names to report.

Beginning July 1, a new law requires counties to send the TBI names of all people convicted of a felony drug charge.