George Thacker, the former county executive of Rhea County, has been sentenced to 33 months in federal prison for misuse of federal COVID small business Payroll Protection Plan (PPP) loans.
Thacker was also ordered by Judge Charles Atchley to repay the government $665,000 and pay a $15,000 fine.
Thacker said, "I'm so sorry. I did have the intention of paying it back."
Attorney Lee Davis had asked home confinement for Thacker, saying he was needed to help run Spring City's only motel with its 14 employees. He also cited his harsh childhood in several foster homes and his "unsophistication."
Prosecutor Kyle Wilson said, "It was not his childhood that led him to do this, it was greed that made him take the money."
Saying that Thacker lied to the government on his use of three separate PPP loans, he added, "This is a serious crime that deserves a serious punishment." He said prison time was necessary as a deterrent message to others. Judge Atchley said the government has said there was fraud involved on 12-15 percent of the loans.
Prosecutor Wilson acknowledged that Thacker had risen beyond what might have been expected - serving 10 years as county executive and playing the harmonica on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. He also had a successful oil change business and made a go of the hotel. It is still operating, though Howard Johnson pulled its franchise.
Judge Atchley said, "Mr. Thacker is not the victim in this. He took from the government at a time when our nation was very vulnerable."
Authorities said Thacker used the government money to pay credit card bills and to buy bit coin. Attorney Davis said he wound up losing most of the money. Attorney Davis said Thacker always intended to pay it back.
Thacker earlier pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud. He stepped down from his Rhea County post the same day he pleaded guilty.
Those in the courtroom in support of Thacker included his ex-wife of 38 years and an official of Community Bank in Rhea County that has pledged to loan him $500,000 to pay off his debts.