A Chattanooga attorney who supported former Rep. Brenda Turner through her long political career said she was a "hero" in the "Tennessee Waltz" scandal that brought down several prominent politicians.
Attorney Russell King said, "They came to her, offered her money, and she turned them down. She did it the right way. She told them a campaign contribution would be hunky-dory, but she was not doing it any other way."
Former Rep. Turner, whose name came up during one of the trials involving the phony E-Cycle firm that turned out to actually be run by the FBI, recalled that E-Cycle's Joe Carson (real name Joseph Carroll) was "persistent" in offering her money.
She said she first met Carson at Morton's Restaurant in Nashville after she had been told there were some people getting together for dinner. She said she went on over and found it was "mostly Memphis people."
Ms. Turner said she found quickly that Carson was not a registered lobbyist.
She said she questioned him about the bill he was seeking support for, and he said it was a firm that would buy used computers from schools and rebuild them.
"He said no one else was buying them and the schools were throwing them away," Ms. Turner recalled.
She said it "sounded great" and I asked him more about it.
Ms. Turner said, "I was trying to feel him out. My brain was ticking and I was listening. I get the brain ticking from my father (the late James "Bookie" Turner) and the listening from my mother."
She said she asked where the plant would be that would rebuild the computers, and she said she was aghast to find that it was the Phillipines.
"I said, 'No, no, no. Why in God's sake would you put it there? People in Tennessee need jobs."
She also told him by locating it in this country, "You could cut down on your shipping."
Ms. Turner said she told Carson he was not going to get support in the Legislature as long as his plant was overseas.
She said he chuckled and commented, "Don't think so, huh?"
Ms. Turner said she asked why the company needed a bill in the first place to do what it was planning. She said he told her the firm was seeking "exclusivity." He said that was on the advice of the company's attorney.
Ms. Turner said she didn't like that idea either. She said she told him, "I don't think so. You could never get the votes for that."
She told Carson, "You need a Tennessee lawyer who knows the Tennessee law. If I were you, I'd hire another lawyer."
Ms. Turner said it was at the end of the 2004 legislative session and she told him he was "a little early" in pushing a bill.
She advised him, "You can't get ahead of yourself. You can't get out of the gate too soon. Anyway this is an election year."
Ms. Turner said afterwards, Carson "was persistent in his calls to me."
She said he was always polite and very cordial. She noted, "I never have liked pushy lobbyists."
But she said she was waging a re-election campaign with opposition from former County Commissioner JoAnne Favors, who wound up beating her.
Ms. Turner said, "He was just taking up my time. I was in the middle of an election, and it was not something I was interested in."
She said Carson later informed her he was coming through Chattanooga and wanted to have lunch with her. She said she "didn't have the time" but agreed to go.
She said she took him to the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club in Riverview. She said it was quiet with good food and there would be no way he could pay for her meal there.
Ms. Turner said Carson asked at the luncheon, "Can you support us?" She said she told him she could not the way it was set up.
She said he told her, "We can support you."
Ms. Turner said she told him she was in an election and he could write a check to the campaign if he wanted.
She said at the end of the lunch, Carson offered to pay, but she said it was taken care of.
Ms. Turner said Carson called several more times and asked her, "What can we do to help?"
She said she mentioned the campaign contribution again, and he replied, "I don't do things that way?"
She said she asked, "What other way is there? I can't take money for a favor."
Ms. Turner said Charles Love, who turned out to be a "bagman" for E-Cycle and was charged in the case, had handled media for her campaign. She said she may have mentioned Love's name to Carson. Carson testified in one trial that he was introduced to Love through Ms. Turner.
Ms. Turner said she told Carson he needed to take his case "to the state School Board. Make a Power Point presentation to them." She noted that Love was on the Hamilton County School Board and involved with the state school board.
She said Carson told her, "We don't do it that way."
Ms. Turner said Love came by her office on one occasion and told her he had a job. "I asked who it was with, and he said it was E-Cycle. I said, 'Oh, my God.'"
She said she told Love, "They don't smell good to me."
She said Love responded, "We'll see," and said he could always walk away from the job.
Ms. Turner said when the news broke that E-Cycle was actually an FBI sting and that several legislators were being arrested "it broke my heart. It was something that should not have ever happened."
She said she had never suspected that Carson was actually a government agent. She said, "I just know he operated differently."
Ms. Turner said if the FBI was targeting her in the sting "they were barking up the wrong tree."
Attorney King said Ms. Turner may have been approached by the FBI "because she was deputy speaker at the time and was obviously a person of influence."
He said the E-Cycle business plan "was an excellent project on the face of it - getting these used computers, keeping them out of the landfill, and rebuilding them. Who could be against it?"
Attorney King said, "Brenda Turner was always fighting for her district, and her response to this was to try to get the plant in her district. She told them, 'Hey, I want this for Hamilton County.'"
He said he always found Ms. Turner "to be scrupulously honest."
Attorney King said, "In the Tennessee Waltz, she is one who hit a home run."