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TBI joins investigation of misconduct admissions by Nashville judge

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Posted at 12:31 PM, Mar 22, 2021

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has been asked to assist prosecutors in reviewing allegations of misconduct against Davidson County Circuit Court Judge Kelvin Jones, NewsChannel 5 Investigates has learned.

As NewsChannel 5 first revealed back in January, Jones made a number of admissions of potentially illegal behavior during a sworn deposition last year as part of his divorce proceedings.

Hollynn Hewgley, assistant district attorney for the 17th Judicial District in Fayetteville, told NewsChannel 5 that her office had requested the TBI to conduct interviews to flesh out the allegations.

Hewgley's boss, District Attorney General Robert Carter, was assigned as a special prosecutor after Nashville DA Glenn Funk recused himself from the case. Funk referred the case on Jan. 21, the same day that NewsChannel 5 revealed the judge's sworn admissions.

"We have received a request from DAG Carter to assist their office in this investigation," TBI spokesperson Susan Niland said Monday in an email to NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

"We weren’t requested to open a full investigation at this time; rather, it’s to assist the District Attorney General’s office where and when needed."

Related story: Nashville judge's own sworn admissions in divorce case spark ethics complaint

Nashville attorney Brian Manookian had filed an ethics complaint against Jones with the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct, as well as with Funk's office, after he obtained a copy of the sworn deposition.

“Prior to and during the course of his divorce proceedings, Judge Jones has engaged in multiple criminal acts, unethical acts and dishonest acts in violation of the Tennessee Code of Judicial Conduct," Manookian said in the ethics complaint.

Among the judge's admissions in the deposition, Jones boasted about impersonating a man he suspected of having an affair with his wife to get a San Diego hotel to send him a copy of the man’s itemized bill.

He admitted going into a prominent Nashville law firm to call his own house, leaving a voicemail that falsely suggested a big-time divorce lawyer was going to be representing him.

The judge also acknowledged that he accessed his then-wife’s work emails looking for evidence, forwarding them to himself, then deleting the forwarded emails so she wouldn’t know.

Most troubling may be the judge’s admission to having $100,000 buried in the ground in his backyard, right outside his master bedroom. Jones had taken out a federally guaranteed loan for a hotel in Manchester, Tennessee, that ultimately failed.

“You don’t want to have a lot of cash in accounts," the judge testified, "because the state at some point, if you’re going to owe a bill for your hotel, can come in and garnish your account.

"So I didn’t want to have that much cash in an account.”

Jones testified that he owed a bank about $700,000 and finally convinced it to let him pay just $150,000 to settle the debt.

Afraid that the bank would ask “where are you getting the $150,000?” the judge testified that he convinced his father-in-law to write a check, then Jones began depositing the cash in small increments, apparently to disguise the transactions.

“I went to Bank of America, put in 5,000,” the judge testified. “Went to my Regions account, put in 5,000. Next day, same thing. Building it up. Paid them off, gave him his money back in a month.”

And that, the complaint against the judge claims, may have been an admission of money laundering.

Jones, who was elected to the bench in 2014, has declined to comment on the complaint against him.