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Four jailed after scam attempts

Four men are in custody after law enforcement caught them Friday trying to scam an elderly local woman out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

According to a report written by Lenoir City Police Sgt. Lynette Ladd, the men involved were Jamali Jermaine Ramsay, 19, Jahmarley Kiboki McFarlane, 22, Maurice Armani Brown, 21, and Marklyn Antonio Forrester, 25.

Although all four have Florida addresses listed, Lenoir City Police Chief Don White said the men are not legal residents and are believed to be from Jamaica.

“This particular case just proves that the criminal element is out there just waiting to prey not only on our elderly community but our community as a whole through the internet and the majority of these scammers are not located in the United States,” White said. “Through the hard work of our investigators and our partners, we were able to have in this particular case a resolution where it ended up with four arrests and hopefully pending charges in the case.”

The scam began about April 9 when the 76-year-old victim from Lenoir City was informed she won a “Gold Casket Lottery” worth more than $3.5 million.

“She received fraudulent checks,” according to a report from Ladd. “She received a fraudulent letter with an Internal Revenue Services header requesting various fees in order to receive her winnings. She was instructed to send cash by FedEx, UPS and/or USPS to various addresses.”

On or about Aug. 17, the woman paid $80,000 after being instructed by the scammers. The woman was told to meet someone in the Walmart parking lot and place the money in a gift bag. After Ramsay and McFarlane collected the packages, they drove to another location to give the money to another person involved in the scam, according to Ladd’s report. Ramsay admitted he was paid $1,000 for pickup and delivery of the money.

The victim discovered she was being scammed after being told she needed to pay an additional $150,000, which the scammers said were for Tennessee taxes on her winnings. She prepared two packages but didn’t include the cash.

All four scammers drove up from Florida. A man known as “Richard” arranged for someone to pick up the packages and then deliver them to Brown and Forrester. White said law enforcement still does not know the real identity of “Richard.”

Prior to the scam attempt and hours before they were to meet the woman, Forrester and Brown surveyed the Walmart parking lot at 7:39 a.m. Friday. They parked in the Home Depot parking lot and watched as McFarlane took the two packages from the woman.

“McFarlane exited the victim’s vehicle with two packages that he thought contained a total of $150,000 after knowingly helping to deceive and fraud the victim,” Ladd wrote in a report. “When approached by law enforcement officers, McFarlane fled on foot. He ran to his Nissan vehicle, which he drove from the parking lot, accelerated very quickly and drove recklessly through the parking lot.”

A pursuit continued on U.S. Highway 321, where McFarlane crossed into the opposite side of the road and traveled toward oncoming traffic, Ladd wrote in a report. The pursuit ended when McFarlane turned quickly into the Smokey Mountain Trailer parking lot while customers were still present.

Forrester and Brown were detained after the two tried fleeing.

“Forrester watched the exchange take place and he observed law enforcement officers pursue the other party involved on foot,” Ladd wrote in a report. “Forrester accelerated quickly and left the parking area recklessly. When Forrester made contact with law enforcement officers, he struck a civilian’s truck while trying to flee,” Ladd wrote in a report. “Instead of stopping, Forrester accelerated more, trying to force the truck from the path of his vehicle. All three vehicles were damaged.”

White planned to meet Tuesday with the United States Attorney’s Office and FBI after News-Herald presstime.

“We hope to partner with the United States Attorney’s Office and the FBI to further the case and locate other individuals that were involved in this particular conspiracy to extract this money from our victim here in Lenoir City,” White said. “Obviously, our jurisdiction does not allow us to travel into the other states or out of the country, which would be the job of the FBI and the prosecution through the United States Attorney’s Office.”

At least $80,000 was stolen from the woman.

Ramsay was charged with two counts of theft of property and financial exploitation of an elderly adult and held without bond.

McFarlane was charged with reckless endangerment and evading arrest and held without bond.

Brown was charged with two counts of theft of property and held without bond.

Forrester was charged with aggravated assault, theft of property, financial exploitation of an elderly adult and evading arrest and held without bond.

County records need a new home

Loudon County Commission could soon get the ball rolling on a new storage facility to house thousands of historical records.

Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw, county mayor, hopes to have MBI Companies Inc. architect Jay Henderlight at the Nov. 1 commission meeting give a quote on drawings and construction of a structure behind the county office building.

“I talked with Steve Harrelson (circuit court clerk) and Carrie McKelvey (county clerk) Wednesday after the salary and benefits committee, kind of getting a feel,” Bradshaw said. “We looked at if we had a what is in effect a 10-bay storage area, but would actually be closer to a six- or seven-bay because Steve would need probably the equivalent of three storage areas, Carrie the equivalent of two and then breaking it down from there purchasing with one, Susan Harrison (elections administrator) with one, Tracy (Blair, budget director) with one and maybe even moving some of Mike’s (Campbell, property assessor) records out from underneath that room in the annex to create another office if we ever need one.”

Bradshaw has been pushing for the facility for more than a year. He estimated at one point the project could have cost no more than $100,000, but the current economic climate could significantly bump up that price.

Matthew Tinker, county commissioner, has pushed for an expansion of Loudon Public Library for record placement since a Oct. 18 workshop.

“I chose the library because there is someone currently employed there who could assist people with looking up those historical documents, someone who could be there while checking them out,” Tinker said. “It would be an easier way for the general public to come in and look at those documents. If it’s in a standalone building then it’s going to require someone to go over, open things up, it might not be open all the time like it could be if it were at the library.”

Tinker hopes to meet with county public records commission chairwoman Pat Hunter to get a better understanding of how much space will be needed. He said the old Loudon High School property could possibly house unneeded documents.

Numerous documents came from underneath Loudon County Courthouse, which caught fire in April 2019.

“The Loudon library has adequate land and would be an excellent home for the historical records,” Hunter said in an email correspondence. “There is a small section in the library with historical records. Ultimately, a home for the historical records (archives) will be the decision of the county commission, the funding body. Local libraries are rich in history and librarians are a wonderful resource, knowledgeable in organizing and cataloging, digitizing of records and familiar with the techniques and handling of old fragile records. I personally see this as a win-win for the community and future generations.”

Tinker emphasized there isn’t a rush, but commissioners need to start discussions.

“It’s just that it seems like we’ve kind of just let it go and let it go a little bit and now it’s time to take a position on where you want the records to be,” Tinker said. “There’s no room in the courthouse when it gets finished. If they were to build a new annex or new courthouse somewhere, that’s even further down the road, so we need to make a decision coming up pretty soon. I’d like to just get a price for them. If it’s going to cost $15,000 for them to make us some drawings then people will say, ‘Yeah that’s worth $15,000 so that we can get started,’ or they’ll vote ‘no’.”

Bradshaw hopes a facility will be for all documents not immediately under use.

“I would love for us to get to a point where we put some of our interesting and our real, true historical documents on display somewhere,” Bradshaw said. “That may come onto maybe that’s where we start talking about an extra wing at the library here. Maybe that’s something the cities would want to join in on together.”

Inventory needed

Although documents include those from all over the county, a bulk were stored below the courthouse.

Since the 2019 fire, the county has worked to inventory the documents to see what can be thrown away and what needs to be kept.

Bradshaw, along with other county officials, must still review the documents to see what can be destroyed before the cleaning process can begin.

“I think we’ll see our elected officials when the time comes to be able to knock those out,” Bradshaw said. “Of course, once we got those back from after the fire, they were freeze-cleaned, I guess, and so it wasn’t shortly thereafter some of this sort of went on that COVID started as well and so that kept a lot of folks in. My hat’s off to Carrie McKelvey and her girls, they absolutely came in and just crushed it. They really led by example during this process. ... I want to get a professional opinion to come out before I start OK’ing to destroy anything. I want try to get either Judge (Hank) Sledge or Judge (Rex) Dale and see if they’ll spend an afternoon. They’re busy as well, I know. Some of the stuff I’m comfortable with but when it comes to legal documents I’d rather have an official opinion.”

Hunter said she believes COVID-19 played a role in slowing the inventory process.

State law requires documents go before the county’s public records commission before they can be destroyed, but Hunter said the group’s hands are tied until each department head reviews paperwork.

Despite being in no rush, Hunter recently expressed frustration about the pace of inventorying. She credited McKelvey’s office and Loudon County Soil Conservation for being fastidious.

“By state law, before a public records commission can sign off to destroy the records, we have a set, very strict protocol that we have to follow,” Hunter said. “We even have to notify the state and let them know they have 90 days to get back to us. So we have a set procedure that we have to follow by state statute, and I’m going to follow the law. I’m not going to have any shortcuts, I’m going to go by the law. Now, one thing that I did try to do along the way, I have tried to find a place for records because if we clean them we have been told, it’s my understanding, that the insurance has said once we clean those we have to return them to a climate-controlled storage facility so after all the cleaning they do not deteriorate.

“If we have all these records, and we’re talking about voluminous records, even if a fraction were kept, we’re still talking about a lot of records and no storage place,” she added.

The courthouse is slowly being repaired with funding from Traveler’s Insurance, which insured the historic structure.

Some of the old documents from the courthouse have mold, which Hunter said isn’t safe for viewing by county employees. From the roughly 1,170 boxes that were stored underneath the courthouse, she said some date back to 1890.

“You just don’t throw them in a box and forget about them but that’s what happened over a period of years,” Hunter said. “We can’t do that. We now have guidelines where we have retention schedules. They are supposed to follow retention schedules. They’re supposed to destroy the records, they’re supposed to tell us at the public records commission before they do that. We have a way of cycling the records, so as to speak, but there’s some records that we have to keep indefinitely and there’s no way around it. But some of those records have heavy mold and those will have to be done under hopefully someone from the public records commission will have to supervise, but they’ll have to be people in hazmat suits to do it, and these are the big books that have mold.”

Gasoline prices continue steady climb
  • Updated

Drivers hoping for financial relief at the gas pump must wait a little longer as prices continue to rise nationwide.

Megan Cooper, Tennessee public and government relations consultant for AAA, said this marks the second straight week of double-digit increases in gas price averages across the state.

“Since Monday, our state average has increased about four cents total,” Cooper said in an email correspondence. “It does seem like the rate of increase in our local gas prices, on average, has slowed compared to recent weeks. It’s too soon to know if this is a trend that will continue in the coming weeks, but it is definitely welcome news in comparison to the recent jumps at the pump.”

According to AAA Auto Group, 9% of gas stations in Tennessee have prices below $3, with the lowest and highest 10% of pump prices for regular unleaded being $2.98 and $3.39, respectively. The state’s average is $3.16, which is 11 cents more than last week. A year ago the state average was $1.91.

According to GasBuddy, prices in Loudon County were hovering around $3.09 on Monday, but some are as high as $3.19. The lowest in Loudon County was $2.94 at Love’s Truck Stop in Lenoir City.

“The biggest driving factor right now in increasing pump prices is the price of crude oil, which accounts for about half of the price that we see at the pump,” Cooper said. “This week, crude oil has still consistently stayed above the $80 per barrel mark. Looking ahead to the next few weeks, if the price of crude oil remains elevated, especially above $80/barrel, we can expect for pump prices to remain elevated as well. In general, the bigger swings that we see in crude oil prices, the more substantial impact we see that trickles down to local pump prices.

“The last two weeks are a great example of this,” she added. “It’s likely that if crude oil prices remain high, but relatively stable, Tennesseans can expect to see some fluctuations in pricing, but definitely not to the degree that we’ve seen in the last two weeks.”

Oil refineries switched to winter blends as of Sept. 15, which Cooper said typically calls for a decline in prices due to lower demand and cheaper refinery costs. A decline in gasoline stocks and elevated crude oil prices have put upward market pressure on prices, she said.

“Should we start to see relief in crude oil prices, these factors could potentially help to stabilize gas prices,” Cooper said. “Right now, unfortunately, the upward pressure from crude oil pricing is outweighing the benefits of these two factors.”

Patrick De Haan, GasBuddy head of petroleum analysis, hopes drivers may soon have a “light at the end of the tunnel.”

“The sharp rise we’ve seen over the last three weeks should begin slowing down soon, barring another jump in the price of oil,” De Haan said. “This is because gasoline prices have now largely caught up to the jump in oil that started nearly a month ago. This isn’t an all clear for the future, however, as oil prices could rise again at any time. But for now, oil has held around $83 per barrel, and without a further climb, gas price increases should slow down soon in the bulk of the nation.”

Loudon boy still missing
  • Updated

The whereabouts of a 15-year-old remain unknown after he disappeared from his Loudon residence more than two weeks ago.

Tegan Daugherty was last seen at 9 a.m. Oct. 10 at his home.

Authorities believe Daugherty left on a black bicycle with neon green stripes on the tires. He was wearing blue jeans and a dark blue Jurassic Park T-shirt. Daugherty wears prescription eyeglasses and had them on when he disappeared.

“According to the information that we have been able to determine, it is a runaway case,” James “Bear” Webb, Loudon police chief, said. “I mean he did run away from home at 9 o’clock on Sunday the 10th, and the parents reported that he had run away. But whenever you get to a point where we’re at now, I would consider him not just a runaway, but also missing because we don’t have any information to his whereabouts or don’t have any idea where he is. It’s hard to believe that he’s still in the local area.”

Loudon Police Department started a three-day search Oct. 12 after locating the teenager’s backpack behind Loudon High School, Webb said. LPD sought help from Blount County Sheriff’s Office to conduct a drone search.

“Also on that day, Loudon Fire Department and one of my off-duty police officers, they put their boats in the Tennessee River and went up and down the river searching the banks for his bicycle thinking that there was a possibility that somehow he might have got to the river and accidentally got in the river somehow, so we searched the banks of the river for his bicycle,” Webb said. “Anybody that gives us any kind of lead whatsoever we search theirs. We had over a dozen people actually physically walk the area where the backpack was found and searched the area and did, I wouldn’t say specifically a grid search ... but we did have over a dozen people walking and doing the best we could with the amount of people we had to search the area.

“We made no contact with Tegan Daugherty or the bicycle or any other article that might belong to him or turn up any other piece of evidence,” he added.

Since Oct. 15, LPD Detective Brian Jenkins said the department has taken a team approach, getting area agencies more involved and seeking help from Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

“We had all exhausted all of the resources of the city at that point and we felt like that the scope of the search probably needed to get bigger probably than the city of Loudon at that point, obviously, and the TBI being a larger agency would have more resources and a larger reach to go out and help search for him,” Webb said.

Jenkins said LPD is following every lead the department can.

“We’ve had several where some have been legitimate, some not,” Jenkins said. “A lot of children from the high school have tried to be helpful but lot of that ended up just being rumors that they had heard from one kid or the other that ended up being completely false. That’s the most frustrating part is trying to filter through what’s legitimate information and what’s just rumor. We’re still pushing out flyers and trying to blanket this end of the county. With the TBI being involved, they’ve just got a little more resources than we do.”

Anyone with information on Daugherty can call the Loudon County E-911 Center at 865-458-9081.

“We just recently tried to do another 911 reverse call and put some stuff out to the news channels just to try to generate any kind of leads just to remind folks that we’re still trying to find this young man,” Jenkins said. “Of course, we’ve not given up and trying to keep it fresh in everybody’s mind. ... We’re fairly confident that he did indeed run away, we’ve got no indication otherwise. It’s frustrating because he has no social media presence, he has no telephone, none of the normal technological things you can do to try to track somebody. We’re relying on old school eye-witness tips, which is the whole purpose of trying to get the media involved.”