Memphis, TN – A massive investigation into government corruption is going on in a small town in Tennessee. The Shelby County District Attorney's Office and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation are pouring over a sea of papers they pulled from government offices, private businesses, and residences in Millington.
Search warrants were obtained based on an affidavit by Special Agent David Harmon of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. In the affidavit Harmon says that he interviewed a confidential informant who owns Transmission Doctors, an auto shop in Millington. The informant said gambling went on in his shop and Millington Mayor Richard Hodges took part. The typical stake was $5 to $10 a hand. The informant said Hodges became more than $10,000 in debt, and then tried to extort money from him in exchange for a police badge.
The man who answered the door at Transmission Doctors said he had, "No comment." That's what the Millington police said, too, over the phone. And that's more or less what Mayor Hodges is saying about the investigation. But other places in the city people are talking.
Old Timer's Restaurant, at the center of town, has a fortress-like brick and metal fence outside and a slightly worn-looking brick and stone exterior. It's the kind of place that politicians frequent. During campaign season sometimes both rival camps would lunch here, sitting at different tables, feet from each other and interspersed with the rest of the town.
John Frizzell is eating lunch with his friend Richard Hammons; they both do maintenance for Shady Oaks, a trailer park not far away. Hammons starts and Frizzell finishes his sentence. "Because politicians they all do it--it is just a matter of getting caught," they said.
Frizzell says the investigation hasn't hurt his appetite for Millington.
"It's awesome here. I mean, just because a little bit of hoo-ha is going on, in the community, or with the politics--besides that, everything is great here," Frizzell said. "Backs are always watched. I mean that's just how it is. That's how is should be in a smaller community."
Sitting in her home in Millington, Rhonda O'Dell agrees, "It's small and I guarantee you, you don't need a news station to come out here and get the word out in Millington."
O'Dell used to work for the city of Millington. Hodges made her storm-water manager. The tale she tells is of an opaque administration where dissent was not tolerated. In an email to the city finance director, O'Dell questioned Hodges and the board of aldermen's use of money from the storm-water fund. A month or two later O'Dell says she was sitting in a budget meeting, waiting for the meeting to start.
"And watched the mayor and the finance director totally eliminate my job off of the overhead screen that was there. And that was kind of eerie," O'Dell said.
At the end of the day, citizens flocked to city hall for the first meeting of the board of aldermen since the raids. Under the eyes of their town, the mayor and the aldermen conducted their meeting, voting the items on their agenda up or down in lock-step, with no dissenting votes. Then, at the end of the meeting, the mayor read a statement. The day before the raids on his home and office, the mayor's wife committed suicide. And that's what he began with, "I hope nobody ever, ever has the experience that I had last Tuesday at 3 o'clock," Hodges said.
When asked if he would step down Hodges said, "Why should I step down? I haven't been charged with anything. I haven't been proven guilty."