Millington Mayor Richard Hodges will be arraigned on two counts of bribery Friday. Early information points to the mayor having a problem with gambling.
Hodges will retire as mayor effective January 13. In a statement Hodges wrote, “I have been told that many residents of Millington are losing confidence in me. I cannot let this stand.” But Hodges is tight-lipped about the charges against him. “My situation is still under litigation and at the advice of my attorney I have no comment,” Hodges said.
Investigators and prosecutors are also not saying much about their probe into government corruption in Millington, except that it’s “ongoing.” If the case goes to trial more will likely come out, but right now, most of what is known comes from an affidavit signed by Special Agent David Harmon of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. In the affidavit, Harmon says he interviewed a confidential informant who owns an auto shop in Millington. The informant said Hodges gambled in the shop. The typical stake was $5 to $10 a hand and the mayor became more than $10,000 in debt. Agent Harmon also listened in on phone calls between the mayor and the informant. Harmon says the mayor offered to have a city crew do drainage work around the auto shop in order to pay off his gambling debt and offered to sell the informant a police badge for $1,000.
“That is a description of somebody I’d be very concerned about,” said James Whelan. Whelan runs the gambling clinic at the University of Memphis. He studies gambling and treats gambling addicts full-time. Whelan is careful to say he can’t diagnose anyone from an armchair, but he says the description laid out in the affidavit suggests the mayor struggles to control his gambling.
Gambling addiction is a lot like alcohol and drug addiction—there’s a list of symptoms, and if you have a certain number of symptoms on the list, then you’re an addict. In the case of gambling, it’s five out of 10. And gambling addiction shares many of those symptoms with alcohol and drug addiction—for example, do you lie to your spouse, your friends or family about your addiction?
But one symptom that is unique to gambling is committing a crime in order to further the addiction. About 10 percent of the people who come into Whelan’s clinic have committed a crime.
“These are not criminals,” Whelan said. “These are people who, you know, 30, 40, 50 years, 60 years, have made very honest, caring judgments, but they get so caught up in the need to have money to either pay off debts, or to continue gambling.”
Whelan had one patient who robbed a bank. Whelan said, “He thought, ‘If I just do this once, I’ll get out of all my problems. I can gamble, I can win, I can keep my wife off my back.’”
Whelan says we underestimate the hopelessness that drives gambling addicts. And this is especially true of the addicts who commit crimes.
“We don’t understand about how desperate they are,” Whelan said. “We often times see them in the end, where they’ve committed this act, and you think, ‘How ridiculous! Why didn’t you think about that? Didn’t you realize what you were doing?’ And what we lose there, is we lose the process they got to the decision to make that act.”
But Whelan says problem gamblers are not irresponsible people.
“When you look at many of these individuals total life you find them to function very effectively,” Whelan said. “It just happens that gambling is an area where their effectiveness in making decisions is atrocious.”