in March of 2010. The scope of the grant was to provide assistance to implement a program which would reduce diesel emissions and improve air quality through an electrification project at diesel truck stops along the Interstate. The grant was funded through Federal money that was distributed from the Environmental Protection Agency. Tennessee received $2million to fund the project, of which $1,666, 525 has been awarded to four companies. Lewis’ Company was the first company to receive the grant, with the State listing his issuance date as 6/15/2010. Issuance dates for the remaining three companies are all in December of 2010. According to
Nagi, shortly after Lewis was awarded the $424,000 grant, TDOT became aware that he had filed for
bankruptcy. Nagi confirmed that Lewis had accurately completed the application process, however TDOT did not investigate the financial situation of the companies that applied for the grant. Nagi stated that it was a shallow application and that TDOT has no arm of its organization that is designed to investigate grant applicants. Other red flags should have been available to TDOT. In August of 2002, Lewis pled guilty to 31 counts of theft resulting from allegedly filing fraudulent tax returns, as was reported in The Newport Plain Talk. He was sentenced to 8 years of unsupervised probation. Information provided, by Public Information Officer Helm for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, is void of any information regarding the 2002 guilty plea or the Court Ordered probation. It does, however, include 4 arrests of worthless checks, the last being the same month that he made application for the TDOT grant. Helms stated that a record could be expunged and the arrest and conviction would not appear on public record. The order to expunge could be included at sentencing or could be petitioned for at a later date.
Sharon Curtis-Flair, Director of Communications for the Tennessee State Attorney General’s Office, stated that the Attorney General did not expunge Lewis’ record, however that could have come from the District Attorney’s Office or another agency. If Lewis served the full term of his probation, he would have still been on probation for the 2002 plea when applying for the grant. It is unclear what agency is responsible for expunging the record and the reasoning behind expunging a record with multiple arrests spanning several years.
Creditable sources have reported the Tennessee Division of State Audit is investigating the grant award in regard to Mountain Plaza, Inc. The property in question was sold on the Jefferson County Courthouse Steps on September 29,2011. The grant stipulated that the business must operate for 48 months. Several agencies are now involved in deciding how, and if, the State of Tennessee will try to recoup any of the grant funds awarded to Mountain Plaza, Inc. In response to a question regarding Lewis allegedly currently owing back taxes to the State, the Attorney General’s Office responded that because this is ongoing litigation and there are privacy laws regarding tax issues, they will only state that they have filed claims and are waiting for distribution in the ordinary course. It is unclear if the Attorney General is filing on behalf of TDOT or if the current situation will have repercussions with the EPA and future grant opportunities for Tennessee.