“I DIDN’T START THIS FIGHT”
by Sharon Rondeau
Ninth Judicial District chief prosecutor Russell Johnson is pursuing the indictment against Cook, who was told that “extortion” had never been prosecuted in the county before.
Under Tennessee law, extortion is defined as:
(a) A person commits extortion who uses coercion upon another person with the intent to:
(1) Obtain property, services, any advantage or immunity; or
(2) Restrict unlawfully another’s freedom of action.
(b) It is an affirmative defense to prosecution for extortion that the person reasonably claimed:
(1) Appropriate restitution or appropriate indemnification for harm done; or
(2) Appropriate compensation for property or lawful services.
(c) Extortion is a Class D felony.
Andrew claimed that Roy stole several computer boards from his apartment and then attempted to “extort” him of $30,000 to cover it up. It was Andrew who made the case against Roy to the Roane County grand jury.
For the last six years, The Post & Email has reported on judicial and prosecutorial corruption in Tennessee which appears to be either accepted or unknown by most residents of the state. Grand juries are guided by a judicially-appointed foreman who serves as long as the judge desires, sometimes for decades.
In Roane County, Charles C. Snow has served as grand jury foreman for nearly 25 years. He was appointed by Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood, who later declared that the foreman is “no different from any other member of the grand jury.” TCA 22-2-314 requires that jurors be chosen by “random, automated means” and that jury service must be interspersed by a 24-month period.
Since discovering the corruption within the grand juries, CDR Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III (Ret.) has detailed a prisoners-for-profit operation carried out by Tennessee criminal courts against the citizens they are expected to serve. Victims have described police brutality which has inflicted temporary and permanent injuries as well as a complete disregard for due process as laid out in the Tennessee and U.S. Constitutions and Bill of Rights.
Currently imprisoned at the Northwest Correctional Complex (NWCX) in Tiptonville on convictions of extortion and aggravated perjury, Fitzpatrick’s “crime” was that of attempting to expose judicial misconduct to the McMinn County grand jurors, including the long-serving foreman. Fitzpatrick has recently brought to light an internal prisoners-for-profit program by which prisoners are forced to attend classes for which they may not be suited in order for the facility to receive federal dollars.
Others victimized by the corruption which involves judges, prosecutors, public defenders, court clerks, grand jurors, law enforcement, trial jurors, the appellate courts, and even the Tennessee Supreme Court have come forward in significant numbers since The Post & Email began reporting Fitzpatrick’s findings in 2009. Some have been assaulted while in prison, and one, Timothy Aaron Baxter, has filed a federal lawsuit seeking $5 million in damages. One, a former Tennessee detective, has experienced double-dipping of his salary for mandated child support and alimony and the appearance of a district attorney general at a hearing in his civil case after he exposed that and other anomalies.
In Tipton County, Mike Parsons is being prosecuted on two indictments of possessing firearms as a convicted felon after having cleared his wife’s firearms arrangement with the parole officer, Danny Johnson. “Their goal is to convict you,” Parsons has said of the widespread judicial corruption.
George Raudenbush has filed two federal lawsuits against the State of Tennessee for wrongful imprisonment and the seizure of property belonging to the youth ministry for which he worked in Monroe County, respectively.
Fitzpatrick has called the situation within the Tennessee courts a “dictatorship of the judiciary.” Promises of state legislators to take action on the systemic public corruption in their state have never come to fruition despite acknowledging that Tennessee is ranked third in public corruption of the 50 states. Gov. Bill Haslam and his predecessor, Phil Bredesen, have ignored the problem.
In documents used as “discovery” against Roy Cook, former Roane County Detective Jeff Vittatoe, who served a search warrant on Cook on April 24, 2013, is seen to be communicating via email with Andrew Cook through a private email address rather than a “tn.gov” email account. Roy told The Post & Email that there are emails missing totaling two months between Vittatoe and his brother and that it can be seen that someone whited-out parts of others. [Editor’s Note: Emails contain obscenities and terms which may be offensive to readers. Not for children.]
In the discovery documentation, a background check shows several criminal charges against Roy Cook. In explanation, Cook told The Post & Email that the charges of “harassment” arose from a lending institution for which he had worked from 1995 to 2001. After discovering fraudulent loan practices, he reported the institution to federal officials, which resulted in significant fines levied against it by the Federal Reserve Board. “I exposed them by telling the feds that they had an insurance product that was good for $200 million a year pure profit; they’ve never been able to sell that product again,” Cook told us. After the company fired him in February 2001, Cook became a licensed mortgage broker working semi-autonomously.
Cook said that all of the charges were dropped before trial with the exception of one of misdemeanor forgery when he was a college student, to which he agreed to a plea deal, receiving three years of probation which passed uneventfully.
In April 2013, Vittatoe served a search warrant on Roy Cook after taking a complaint from Andrew accusing Roy of stealing computers from his apartment. When we asked how the case against him was presented, Cook responded, “He recorded some phone calls; he put together some emails, and he convinced the prosecutor over here in Tennessee to file an extortion complaint against me.”
“Andrew told him a story about me and my little brother, who was here looking for a job. The detective seized my computers, took my cell phone – a $15 Walmart special, which is all I use – and he said, ‘I’ve got enough evidence to convict you. I’ve listened to the phone recordings, and when we get into your computers, I’ll have all the evidence I really need to convict you; you might just as well want to confess,'” Cook recalled of the day his home was searched.
“So I told him that he had already determined that I was guilty. ‘There’s nothing I’m going to say to convince you that I’m not. If you don’t mind, I think I’m going to exercise my right to remain silent. Do what you have to do and get out of my house,’ I told them. So they left. I got another computer and cell phone and was back in business within a day,” Cook said.
Vittatoe later left Tennessee and is now living and working in Montana in a youth ministry.
On Wednesday, Roy contacted Vittatoe to ask if he had redacted any parts of the emails sent to Andrew, to which Vittatoe responded, “I never whited out anything.” “The prosecutor told me, and you can ask my attorney when you call him, that Vittatoe whited it out, and Vittatoe said he never whited out anything in the five years he worked for the prosecutor’s office,” Roy told The Post & Email on Friday.
On page 19, part of an email beginning with “I talked” from Andrew to Vittatoe is obliterated.
Cook believes that “they have the non-redacted copies [of the emails] somewhere.” He is also convinced that the indictment naming him in extortion is being prosecuted for political reasons. A company for which his wife had worked for a period of years before she became seriously ill terminated her in what Cook characterized as an unwillingness to continue to provide her with medical insurance. Cook responded to the company’s actions by picketing outside its headquarters and more aggressively, by publicizing the manner in which his wife had been treated. Cook later discovered that the company is a major political donor to Russell Johnson and others who hold elected office within the Ninth Judicial District.
Andrew Cook operates a company in Costa Rica which supplies defense industry suppliers. According to Roy, Andrew has been dishonest in his business dealings and owes a great deal of money to relatives and others. Roy told The Post & Email that he and Andrew have had “a war going on for about 15 years now.”
Cook related that prior to Vittatoe’s departure for Montana, he admitted to Cook’s son that there was insufficient evidence to pursue the charge against Roy. “Before he left, he was taking a course at the local community college where my son went. Amazingly, he told my son, ‘I don’t know how this thing even got through. Your uncle, Andrew, basically yelled, screamed and hollered enough over in Nashville so that the guy in Nashville told somebody over here, “You gotta take care of this,”‘ Cook said.
Cook said that after his computers and phone were seized by Vittatoe, “they were never sent out. They never did anything with them.” After 20 months, his equipment was returned.
“This happened the third week of April, and Vittatoe told me I was going to be indicted in June. I guess they indict people only every three months because they have a traveling road show where they go to different counties. I was indicted in October. I was such a ‘hardened’ criminal that they gave me a $1,000 bond. I went down and posted $100 bail and I was in and out. I was indicted, and I got a public defender whose name was Walter Johnson,” Roy Cook recounted.
Of Johnson, he said, “I’ve never met a lazier man in my life. He said he had 221 clients. Their job is to get them through the system as quickly as possible. I didn’t even have my first meeting with Johnson until January. It was a 5-10 minute meeting. He said, ‘You’ve been indicted; now here’s what we’re gonna do: we’re going to get together, and we’re going to talk another day.’ Well, why couldn’t we talk this day?
“He read me the charges against me, and afterward I said to him, ‘Why are we pushing this thing through?’ He said, if you want to sit here and have him read the indictment, you’ll be sitting here all day; I’ll make sure of it.”
Cook said he asked Walter Johnson repeatedly to issue subpoenas for phone records and emails in order to prove his innocence which were ignored. In fact, Roy told The Post & Email that in 14 months, Johnson took no action whatsoever on his behalf. In May, Johnson withdrew from Cook’s case, stating that he was “not strong enough” physically to manage it. He declined to comment to The Post & Email about his role in the case when we contacted him by phone last month after he had withdrawn. Cook told us that Kim Nelson, who runs the public defender’s office, described Walter Johnson as “one of her best attorneys.”
Johnson reportedly “offered a plea bargain before he or the prosecution reviewed any evidence.” “He didn’t even recommend taking it or declining it,” Cook recalled.
In an email to Nelson dated June 19, 2015, Cook wrote:
After our phone conversation i feel this email is a waste of time but i am sending it for the record. In the 14 months Walter Johnson represented me he did nothing on my case. he never filed a “notice of particulars” or issued 2 subpoenas i asked him to. he seemed more concerned with keeping his relationship with the prosecution instead of bothering them with anything. in August of last year he did present a plea bargain to me of 1 yr. probation and a psych exam. from what i gather from outside sources the psych exam is to help the prosecution. also, my new attorney told me that with sentencing guidelines if the case went to trial and i got convicted the worst i could expect would be 2 years probation. in our phone conversation even you said “but he suggested you not accept it”. sorry to disappoint you but NO….he just sat there like a tool and i had to pull info out of him for him to admit neither he nor the prosecutor had reviewed any evidence.
In February of this year when i was getting more frustrated by Walter’s lack of action i met with him and someone he identified as his supervisor. i had requested a meeting with his supervisor to complain. imagine my surprise when i found out you were the supervisor and not the gentleman who was present. at that meeting when i attempted to open up my file on my laptop to show them the flaws and contradictions in the evidence with proof that the prosecution had withheld evidence they told me “not to bother” that they didn’t care. Walter actually told me he didn’t care what or thought or how i wanted to proceed. the only choices i had to make were how to plead and whether or not to testify. the “supervisor” who i spoke with on the phone to set up the meeting tried to convince me that he and i had met at the office the prior year. i didn’t even know where the office was til that meeting.
Following her election last August to an eight-year term, on September 5, 2014, Nelson took an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America and the State of Tennessee, SO HELP ME GOD.”
On Friday, The Post & Email contacted Nelson by phone, leaving a voice message, but did not receive a response. Also contacted was Charlene Hipsher, Victim Witness Coordinator in Russell Johnson’s office. On page 1 of the discovery documents, printed on the letterhead of the Ninth Judicial District, Andrew Cook is listed as the victim and Roy Cook as the defendant, with Hipsher characterizing Andrew as “a victim of a crime” rather than an “alleged victim of a crime” since the case had not gone to trial. Hipsher used as her reference the fact that a “‘true bill’ was returned by the Roane County Grand Jury.”
On Friday, The Post & Email contacted Hipsher and left a voice message, stating that by law, every defendant has the right to a jury trial by his peers before he is considered guilty. We also stated that Roane County grand jury foreman Charles C. Snow has been serving in that capacity for more than 20 years and cited TCA 22-2-314. Hipsher did not return our call, nor did an associate now at the telephone extension shown for Hipsher in the discovery documents.
Approximately two months ago, Roy Cook was assigned a new attorney, Joshua Headrick, who works in private practice and for which the county agreed to pay on an hourly basis. Cook says Headrick has also done “nothing” on his case. At a status hearing on Monday which Roy attended, Judge E. Eugene Eblen floated the possibility of dismissing the case. According to Cook, Eblen plans to retire at the end of the year after 47 years on the bench.
Cook does not want the case dismissed.
At Monday’s hearing, Cook discovered that Headrick “had another court-appointed client with the same complaint. Headrick had been his attorney since December and has done nothing. The man is incarcerated and Headrick has never even been to the jail to see him,” he sent us in an email.
The Post & Email was not able to reach Headrick for comment for this story.
“If there was a real grand jury that took my case, nobody could sit up here and look at this and believe that this is anything more than nonsense,” Cook said.
On June 18, Cook wrote in an email, “just got an email from Hedrick…..the subpoenas have been issued. seems like they’re all afraid of the judge knowing what’s going on. when i get the phone and email records i’ll know whose name was redacted because it will be on Andrew’s emails. i will keep you informed.”
Cook reported that on Monday he heard Headrick say to the prosecutor regarding his case, “I know I have to give you something,” after which Cook told Hedrick:
DO NOT give them anything without my authorization and if you have a problem with that then we can discuss it with the judge in August. i’m sure they can wait that long…..after all I’ve been indicted for almost 2 years and misrepresented by counsel for 18 months as well as having these guys hold my computers for 20 months and not doing anything with them.
To The Post & Email, he further commented:
I have screamed political lynching on this since I was indicted, and can anyone explain to me why nobody seems surprised by that or even remotely concerned? As I’ve said before…..maybe I’m wrong. However, the emails and phone records I have requested since last year would clear all this up. Now it may cost some money to get those records, but I didn’t start this ridiculous fight. Russell Johnson and his crew did.