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Hawkins judge validates $571K fraud lawsuit ruling against Mount Carmel mayor

Jeff Bobo • Mar 13, 2019 at 6:30 PM

ROGERSVILLE — A Hawkins County judge ruled Monday that the $571,000 West Virginia judgment against Mount Carmel Mayor Chris Jones for funds he took from his elderly grandmother is valid in Tennessee and can be collected.

Greeneville attorney William Nunnally is now wondering if there’s anything substantial for his clients, including Jones’ mother, to collect.

The next step will be a deposition in which Jones will be asked to reveal all of his assets. Nunnally told the Times News Wednesday, however, that Jones has claimed his total non-exempted assets don’t exceed $10,000.

What were the allegations against Jones?

Jones’ grandmother Marceline Carpenter died on Jan. 2, 2016, in a West Virginia assisted care center.

In March of 2016, a lawsuit was filed in Randolph County (W.Va.) Circuit Court by Carpenter’s daughter Barbara Jo Long of Morristown (Jones’ mother), and two of Jones’ uncles, Robert Carpenter and Gary Wayne Carpenter, both of Junior, W.Va.

The lawsuit alleged that Jones embezzled almost $394,000 from his grandmother’s estate in the final year of her life.

The lawsuit claims that Mrs. Carpenter suffered from dementia toward the end of her life, was not competent to sign away her power of attorney or endorse checks, and was in a nursing home as of Feb. 5, 2015.

After failing to appear in court on the trial date in 2017, Jones was ordered by Judge David Wilmoth to pay his mother and two uncles a total of $571,569, of which $393,939 is compensatory damages; $131,313 is punitive damages; $6,200 is attorney fees; and $40,117 in pre-judgment interest. An additional 7 percent interest will be added annually for the unpaid balance.

In his ruling Wilmoth stated, “The Court finds defendant’s conduct reprehensible. Defendant continued in his actions of conversion and embezzlement from his grandmother for a period of approximately one year, draining nearly all of her assets over that time. Defendant must have been aware that his actions were causing, or were likely to cause, harm.”

The case is heard in Hawkins County

On Monday, Third Judicial District Chancellor Doug Jenkins ruled in favor of Nunnally's motion for summary judgment, validating the West Virginia court’s decision in Tennessee.

Jones has 30 days to file an appeal in the Tennessee Court of Appeals in Knoxville.

“That means the judgment of the West Virginia court that was something like $571,000 and change is enforceable and recognized in Tennessee,” Nunnally said. “The general rule is, if one state — in this case West Virginia — issues a decision, then it is entitled to what we lawyers call full faith and credit in the next state. But you can’t just take the judgment. You then have to go through a procedure to file it in Tennessee and get the court to recognize it as a valid judgment.”

Nunnally added, “Mr. Jones engaged in what I considered to be delaying tactics to keep the judgment from being recognized, so we had to overcome a couple of excuses he raised.”

Jones argued that the West Virginia judgment wasn’t valid in Tennessee because there was a missing state seal on the original summons. The West Virginia Court revisited the issue of that summons and ruled this past September that if that was a defect, Jones should have raised that point back in 2017 before the lawsuit was resolved.

Jones also argued that the summons was missing from the lawsuit paperwork he was served.

However, the clerk’s office and prosecuting attorney in West Virginia, as well as the process server in Tennessee, signed an affidavit stating the summons was present in the 22 pages of papers served on Jones.

“The court in West Virginia found that he engaged in fraud, in effect theft of nearly $400,000, and in September the West Virginia court basically said we agree with what we already did,” Nunnally said. “And then on Monday, Judge Jenkins declared that is a valid judgment and can be enforced here in Tennessee.”

Jones cites grandmother’s wishes

Jones told the Times News last year his grandmother wanted him to have the money he acquired from her West Virginia estate over the course of approximately one year prior to her death in 2016.

“She said, ‘I can’t take it with me, and I want you to have it. They can have what I leave in the other account.’ What she gave me was what she gave me.”

Jones told the Times News he didn’t know how much he received from his grandmother.

“She did have a will, and she had another bank account she wanted the other relatives to have, and they got that money. I have no idea how much that was. She gave (her other funds) to me before she died, so she didn’t need to put that in her will,” Jones said. 

A link in the online version of this article at www.timesnews.net provides more detail into the allegations against Jones, as well as the results of a lengthy conversation the Times News had with Jones in which he explained his side of the story.  

Jones’ property encumbered by Chancery Court

Last year, Jenkins ordered that several items in Jones’ possession be encumbered until the lawsuit was resolved, which meant Jones was not permitted to sell or otherwise dispose of those items.

Among those items were a Ford pickup with the lettering A&C Contractors on the side valued at $15,000; a late model Ford van with A&C Contractors on the side valued at $12,000; a Jayco camper trailer valued at $10,000; a fishing boat and trailer valued at $5,000; a late model Harley Davidson motorcycle valued at $20,000; a large enclosed trailer valued at $8,000; a large open trailer valued at $2,000; construction tools and equipment valued at $8,000; and a late model Nissan valued at $20,000.

Nunnally said Wednesday he’s not confident his clients will be able to recover much from Jones.

“The likelihood is he’s either hidden or spent all of that money,” Nunnally said. “He claims now to be penniless. So if that’s true, then he has spent all the money, and you can’t get blood from a turnip. If he spent it all, he had to have spent nearly $400,000 in two years, and that’s pretty hard to do.”

Nunnally added, “We’ll be permitted to take a deposition and ask him where the money is. What we do know is there’s no real property in his name, that he rents where he lives, and he has filed some exemptions with the court that says if you add up everything he’s got in the world it’s less than $10,000.”

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