Tenth Judicial District Attorney General Steve Bebb looked every bit of 71 years old as he answered the last question in a 2 ½-hour interview.
It was the first time his voice wavered as he spoke in anger and weariness.
During the past three weeks, he believes he has been prosecuted in the court of public opinion. The ordeal is wearing on him, but Bebb told the Cleveland Daily Banner he is not ready to quit.
“I told my son last night: ‘My mother and father left me a good name and I intend to leave you a good name’ — no money, but a good name. That’s why I’m going to stick this out and see where it goes. No matter where it goes, I haven’t committed a crime. I have not violated the code of ethics.”
A long list of accusations of wrongdoing committed either with intent or through ineptness surround Bebb and the office to which he was elected in 2006.
They are charges he insists were made “with reckless disregard for the truth.”
Tightly gripping the arms of his office chair, the chief law enforcement officer in four counties leaned forward and said, “No,” he would not resign.
“They are using the threat of impeachment, hoping I will resign, but I will tell you today, I would rather pick up cans on the side of the road to feed my family.”
He added, “It is blackmail, which is totally political. I will not resign.”
Bebb said he does not foresee anything coming from the investigation that would make him change his mind because he believes people who run for office should do their best to finish out their terms.
“The only thing that could make me change my mind is — I had a heart attack in ’98 and five bypasses and a stint. I’m trying my best to stay healthy now, but if I have a serious heart attack, I want somebody in here running this office, but I’m hoping I don’t.”
Former Tennessee attorney general, criminal appeals court judge and district attorney general Paul Summers was appointed last Monday to investigate the allegations.
Bebb said he asked District Attorney General Conference Executive Director Wally Kirby to appoint a pro-tem district attorney “to investigate any allegations of impropriety in this office, either by myself or any employee.”
In a brief interview with the Banner, Kirby described Summers as someone whose reputation is unblemished.
“Paul Summers is beyond reproach,” Kirby said. “He will do whatever he sees fit, regardless of who he makes mad or happy.”
Also on Monday, the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announced they were cooperating in an investigation assisted by the Office of the State Comptroller.
“We will cooperate with anyone authorized by law to participate in the investigation,” according to a statement issued by the state attorney general’s office.
“There will be no public announcements regarding the progress of this investigation. At its conclusion, the Attorney General’s Office will make a determination as to whether any further legal proceedings are warranted.”
Bebb said he will accept Summers’ findings.
“I have all the faith that if I have committed a felony or a misdemeanor, he will get me indicted ... if I have done so, which I can guarantee you I have not. Not only have I not broken the law, I have not violated the code of ethics.”
Bebb stressed, “Whatever he finds, let him find. I’m comfortable with it.”
He described Summers as an “honest man,” and took issue with those who have called the appointed investigator his longtime ally and friend.
Bebb acknowledged he and Summers know one another from serving in the judiciary for more than 30 years.
“I thought the world of his father,” Bebb said. “When I walked into my first judges’ conference, I was in awe. Here are all these judges who have written all these opinions and here I am a dummy who doesn’t know what year it is.
“Paul Summers Sr. came up to me and made me feel comfortable. I don’t really remember having anything to do with Paul Summers [Jr.].”
Bebb stressed, “But I have no political alliances. That’s the reason I don’t have any influence with the governor’s office, whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican. I don’t get involved. The Democratic Party has never given me a contribution when I ran, ever. I’ve not contributed to any of them — or Republicans.
“Personally, I think politics in this system is a damnable thing. I wish we didn’t have party politics in it because it’s so important, so important that we try to do justice. That’s all I’ve ever asked my people to try to do. Do the best you can to do justice.
“Have we screwed up? Yep, we have. Do I agree with every plea these guys do? No.”
He said he does not tell his prosecutors what to do. He said he expects them to talk to opposing attorneys, police and witnesses; and he expects them to know the law and try their best to do justice.
When asked about driving a seized car, Bebb said he appreciated it when former 10th Judicial District Drug Task Force Director Mike Hall informed the district attorney he had a car he could drive.
“I said I can’t drive a seized car. (Hall said) this one’s not seized, and I said ‘OK,’” Bebb said. “Before I drove the thing, our auditor was there from the state comptroller’s office. I asked her if there was anything wrong with me driving a nonseized car.”
She told him it was allowable.
He said most of the Drug Task Force’s district attorneys drive DTF cars, which Bebb said should not surprise anyone since the DA is the chief law enforcement officer in the district.
The chief of police and sheriff are furnished cars and in some places, the county commission lets the DA drive a car, he pointed out.
“I was not suspicious at all when I was told that,” he said.
Bebb became aware he might be violating the law during a visit by an assistant state attorney general.
“He asked if I was driving a DTF car and I said, ‘Yes,’” Bebb said. “He asked if it was a seized car; I said, ‘No.’”
The assistant state attorney general requested to inspect the car and asked Bebb if he was sure it was not a seized car. Bebb called the DTF office secretary. She looked in the files and said it was seized, and Bebb said he immediately gave the car back.
“I talked to Mike Hall about it later because I was a little bit angry,” Bebb stressed. “Mike felt like it wasn’t seized because it went to seizure court,” where Bebb said it was cleared.
“The only people who appeared were the lien holders and Mike buys it from them. I talked to some other DAs about it later and they said it was a maybe-it-was, maybe-it-wasn’t kind of deal. But, I felt like if I was doing a wrong thing, I wanted it stopped.”
Though Hall bought the car for the 10th Judicial District Drug Task Force, Bebb said it could still be said it was a seized and forfeited car.
Assistant District Attorney General Stephen Hatchett said the issue was based on personal interpretation.
“Under the law, is it a seized and forfeited vehicle?” Hatchett asked rhetorically. “Mike Hall thought it was not.”
And Bebb added, “Maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t, but I don’t even want any questions. I said ‘... take the car. I don’t even want to ride in one of your cars, much less drive one.’”
Moving on to another accusation made against him, Bebb asked two Banner editors who conducted the interview, “Do you want to talk about the gas part, too?”
Bebb said he knew in 2008 that two people in his office were cheating on mileage.
He called District Attorney General Conference Executive Director (Wally) Kirby.
“It turned out the office manager at the time was cheating and she was cheating for herself, another employee here, and me,” Bebb said. “I [had] trusted her.”
The office manager kept track of Bebb’s mileage and according to him, she reported trips to Madisonville on days he never went there. Though he could not prove how much money was involved, he knew it was significant.
He called the two employees into his office with the intention of firing them both. The office manager asked if she could resign, Bebb explained.
“I guess I got softhearted and I called Wally Kirby again and he said if you can’t prove an amount, let them resign,” Bebb said.
“I let the office manager resign. The other one said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Fine, you’re fired.’
“As a result of that, I called the DA’s conference and said I will not charge any mileage for a year. He said I didn’t have to do that. I said I didn’t care because I just don’t feel right about it. So for one year, I claimed no mileage. Period.”
Bebb said he has worn out 10 to 13 cars conducting state business and it was sometime after discovering the cheating on mileage that Hall offered him the car. But, Bebb says he paid maintenance and fuel costs.
After Bebb began driving the car, his office’s DTF prosecutor was sent to Afghanistan on military assignment and Bebb hired Dallas Scott as a replacement.
“It took Dallas awhile to get his feet on the ground, so I was doing all the DTF cases,” Bebb said. “I drove the DTF car and I claimed state mileage for a period of time, until Dallas got his feet on the ground.”
Some of the mileage was from driving his personal car to Nashville to conferences. He said he did drive the DTF car to Nashville one time to a district attorneys’ conference while his personal car was in a repair shop.
(Next: Bebb will address accusations of misuse of seized funds and abuse of prescribed medications by former 10th Judicial District DTF Director Mike Hall.)