FBI TO CHURCH GROUP LEADER: WE WILL INVESTIGATE PROPERTY SEIZURE
by Sharon Rondeau
(Dec. 23, 2010) — A different type of Christmas gift is on its way to Sheriff Bill Bivens, if it hasn’t arrived already.
A leader of the Appalachian Youth Missions group advised The Post & Email today that when he spoke with the FBI two days ago, the agent promised to investigate why Monroe County, TN Sheriff Bill Bivens had a trailer which had belonged to the ministry confiscated and presumably auctioned off almost two weeks ago. Prior to the seizure of the church’s property, Mr. Gary Church had filed a criminal complaint with the FBI in Knoxville to try to resolve the matter. The trailer was taken on June 8, 2010.
MRS. RONDEAU: How did it happen that Sheriff Bill Bivens ordered that the youth mission’s trailer be seized?
MR. CHURCH: I’m a part of Appalachian Youth Missions with George (Raudenbush) along with several other elders who are part of the operation. We own a couple of vehicles; most of them are little Isuzu pickups. When I say “we,” I’m speaking of Appalachian Youth Missions, which is a not-for-profit organization. So the vehicles are registered that way. However, some of the time they are registered at my address, and we get the tags in Athens, TN, in McMinn County.
The year before last, we went to get a new tag, and they wouldn’t give it to us because there was some type of discrepancy over a post office box address; they wanted a physical address. In the meantime, George was driving the vehicle and they didn’t give us the tags, and he got a ticket for having an expired tag.
Not very long afterward, we got the tag and put it on the vehicle, and there shouldn’t have been a problem. However, while he was driving it, there was a ticket that was given to him. So a discrepancy went on about that between the officials and George. He never did pay it; it never got resolved. He was back and forth to court about it. So the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department decided they were going to confiscate property.
They went to Wayne Bivens, who is an elder of the Appalachian Youth Missions. We have a trailer which is approximately 45 feet long. It’s like a transport-trailer truck unit. It’s not motorized; it’s just a unit and used to be a rental. It was on Wayne Bivens’s property, and we were using it for storage of tools and also as a workshop. It had lots of tools purchased by the youth who had come here from several different church groups which had furnished and refurnished more tools so that the next group to come in would have a greater ability to help people with what we had.
MRS. RONDEAU: Is Wayne Bivens related to Sheriff Bill Bivens?
MR. CHURCH: If they are related, it would be very distant. Keep in mind that Monroe County is tucked back in the mountains, and a lot of names are similar. I go bear-hunting with a friend who lives half a mile from Wayne, and his name is Brad Bivens. I asked Brad, “Are you kin of the sheriff?” and he said, “Not that I know of.” And when I asked Wayne, he said, “Oh, maybe fifth or sixth cousins.” When they say that, they’re basically not claiming kin.
Anyway, when this ticket wasn’t paid, I don’t know who said what, but things got around to the Sheriff’s Department that the trailer belonged to George. So the Sheriff’s Department took it upon itself to take the trailer. Before they did that, they called me and asked me if I was an elder in Appalachian Youth Missions, and I told them “yes” and that the trailer belonged to Appalachian Youth Missions. Well, shortly afterward, they still went and got the trailer. It was gone for three days before it actually ended up in an impound yard in Monroe County; we don’t know where it was during that time. But according to Wayne, when they came and towed the vehicle away, they towed it with a big box truck, and it went south, which was toward Tellico, and the impound yard is in the other direction toward Vonore. So we don’t understand what that was all about.
We haven’t been able to look in the trailer since then. We’ve sent several letters to the Sheriff’s Department and also to the mayor of Monroe County about the taking of the property wrongly, and we’ve had some lawyers talk with us. Recently I even had the FBI call me, because we had contacted them about it. He said, “No, it doesn’t sound right; things haven’t been done right,” and they were going to talk to the Monroe County Sheriff and say, “Put the stuff back; you haven’t done it right.” They said they would contact the sheriff right after we got off the phone. Whether or not they made contact, I don’t know, but they told me they were going to. I haven’t heard anything back from them since then.
We put together registered letters, which I know they received before they sold the trailer, stating that the trailer did not belong to George, and they were taking property and disposing of it wrongfully.
MRS. RONDEAU: Don’t they have to replace the trailer if they took it illegally?
MR. CHURCH: Well, that’s what we put in the paper. We don’t know exactly what everything in the trailer was actually worth. We know what it would cost to replace it. The replacement value is estimated at $100,000 ; to replace all the tools and everything that was in there, it could go to that level. If we were to sell everything at an auction, it wouldn’t have brought much, because most of it was used.
MRS. RONDEAU: But at this point you have to figure replacement cost if everything has been auctioned off.
MR. CHURCH: Yes, that’s what I’m talking about. At this point right now, I am supposing that they have probably emptied the trailer; I don’t know if they’ve disposed of it. Since it was gone three days before it ever went to the impound yard, it went somewhere for another reason; I don’t know why.
MRS. RONDEAU: Because of the direction in which it was reported to have been headed?
MR. CHURCH: Yes.
MRS. RONDEAU: I don’t understand how the Sheriff’s Department can go and take away a huge thing such as your trailer because of an unpaid traffic ticket.
MR. CHURCH: We also have a letter from Wayne Bivens, on whose property the trailer was sitting, that says clearly that nobody has ever represented this trailer as belonging to George; it’s always been represented very clearly as belonging to the youth ministry.
MRS. RONDEAU: Isn’t there a title or deed that would prove that?
MR. CHURCH: Well, here’s the problem. When this trailer was purchased, it was purchased from a rental place; it was in their name, and we were going to put it in their name, and he said, “But you’d have to title it,” similar to a motor vehicle. And they said, “Are you going to put it on the road?” and I answered, “No, we’re just going to use it as a storage unit and a workshop. We don’t ever plan on using it for transporting anything around.” And they said, “There should be no reason to title it, then.” The bill of sale shows clearly who it belongs to, but it wasn’t titled, per se, in Appalachian Youth Missions’ name. So that may be a discrepancy, but even at that, it was never titled in George’s name.
Today I was hoping to hear from the Sheriff something to the effect of “OK, we messed up,” but we have yet to hear anything.
MRS. RONDEAU: Do you think one phone call from the FBI to Sheriff Bivens would be enough for him to return the trailer if he still has it?
MR. CHURCH: Well, this is the thing: you only have two directions to go with local law enforcement like that. You’re either going to appeal to a local court and deal with it as a civil matter or you’re going to try to bring it into a court. The Sheriff’s Department essentially works for the county mayor, who works at the courthouse, so everything revolves around that. It’s very difficult to try to deal with it that way. If there’s corruption going on there at this point, they should know what’s going on. If they really cared, they would have said to the Sheriff, “Hey, you took the wrong stuff; you shouldn’t have taken it; put it back.” That should already have been done if they were going to do anything.
MR. CHURCH: I can’t accuse it, but right now, it seems very likely. In talking with the FBI, they made it very clear to me…they said, “Based upon everything that you’ve told me, yes, the sheriff has taken this wrongfully.” They even told me that even if this allegation belonged to George and the trailer belonged to George, it still didn’t warrant their taking this much material for a traffic ticket.
MRS. RONDEAU: The difference between the amount of the traffic ticket and the value of the trailer is huge.
Writ of Execution dated May 26, 2010 “commanding” the Monroe County Sheriff to seize property belonging to George Raudenbush to pay a ticket for $469.50
Enlargement of Writ of Execution showing amount owed of $469.50. Mr. Raudenbush had appealed the traffic ticket to the Appellate Court, but the case was dismissed, with the Appellate Court claiming that Mr. Raudenbush “failed to respond to the Allocation and Past Due Notices”
Editor’s Note: The Appellate Court stated in a letter dated June 25, 2010 to Mr. Raudenbush:
You failed to respond to the Allocation and Past Due Notices, therefore, a Writ of Execution was issued to the Monroe County Sheriff with instructions to collect the amount of $469.50 from you. It is not the responsibility of the Court to determine ownership of personal property; that lies with the Sheriff.
The letter is signed by Michael W. Catalano, Appellate Court Clerk, with whom The Post & Email has recently been in contact on another matter.
MR. CHURCH: The sheriff who is there now, Bill Bivens, was elected in 2006, winning over Tuffy Watson, who was very corrupt. People just wanted to be rid of him.
MRS. RONDEAU: I have heard that before.
MR. CHURCH: So they did get rid of him, but a lot of times when you’re voting to get rid of people and not really voting to get someone in, you just get another of the same. I’m afraid that’s what’s happened; that’s what it looks like to me.
MRS. RONDEAU: Do you know of any other corruption involving Sheriff Bill Bivens?
MR. CHURCH: I don’t know for sure, but I know there’s an investigation going on whereby an Elections Commission member from both Loudon and Monroe Counties was murdered. I have heard that the Sheriff’s Department is under investigation for that.
MRS. RONDEAU: Yes, the Jim Miller case. How much was the original traffic ticket, or citation for lack of current registration?
MR. CHURCH: From what I understand, according to the FBI, it wouldn’t have been over $80.
MRS. RONDEAU: Why didn’t George pay it originally?
MR. CHURCH: There was a discrepancy going on between the tag office and him. He appealed to the court, which issued an order for the tag office to give us a tag, which we finally received. The court said, “Yeah, you’re supposed to give them the tag; you had no reason to withhold tags from them.”
MRS. RONDEAU: So shouldn’t that have been the end of it?
MR. CHURCH: Well, because he got a ticket in a different county, it brought complications. If it had been a McMinn County traffic ticket, it would have been easily taken care of.
MRS. RONDEAU: But to go and confiscate something worth $100,000 for a traffic ticket seems like an overreaction, to say the least. Do you know whether or not it was auctioned off?
MR. CHURCH: I don’t know that; I just know that they said they were going to sell it on the 12th of December. It’s now the 23rd, so it’s probably been sold for 11 days. We had pictures of it when it was brought to the impound yard.
MRS. RONDEAU: Is there a possibility that it didn’t sell?
MR. CHURCH: It’s possible, but I doubt it. There are plenty of people who buy stuff. Usually in McMinn County when they have auctions, everything sells.
MRS. RONDEAU: Even in these hard times?
MR. CHURCH: Yes. They sell for less than what they’re worth, and people can either go sell them for scrap metal or crush them and make money.
MRS. RONDEAU: How are you managing without the trailer?
MR. CHURCH: Most of our ministries occur during the summertime. We don’t really have facilities. We camp with the kids and take them to farms which need help. We fix houses, siding, plumbing, barns, and help people who need it. There’s not a whole lot we can do other than see if we can get the stuff back so that we can try to continue what we were doing before.
MRS. RONDEAU: What are your thoughts about resolving the confiscation of the mission’s property?
MR. CHURCH: The thing that I would like to see is it being resolved without having a big lawsuit. I’d like to see things done peaceably. If there’s anybody who’s Christian within the police station at all, I would hope they would do the Christian thing, which is follow the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.
MRS. RONDEAU: But then they’d have to make restitution to you.
MR. CHURCH: Well, if they’ve sold it, they know where the goods are. They could bring it all back. If they know they’ve done wrong, they can replace it, and everything would be good. Now if they can’t replace it, I guess they would have to do restitution. I’m afraid this is one of the situations where yes, you should forgive people. I have no problem with the matter of forgiveness, but when you have a case like this, if you don’t call people to responsibility, they’re going to continue to do the same thing. Correction is also part of Christianity as much as forgiveness. So that’s where I’m at with that right now.
Editor’s Note: In regard to George Raudenbush, the man who was given the traffic ticket, The Post & Email previously reported on an attack which almost claimed his life four years ago which he stated was perpetrated by people within the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department.