The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland Tennessee (TN) and Bradley County Tennessee (Tn).

Of Bradley County Tn.


                            The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland and Bradley County Tn.

Feature Writers






Bent Bank Examiner Walks
Local bank examiner avoids trial, gets slap on wrist,
record erased and keeps job

















B J Armstrong

J C Bowman

Jennifer Martin

Alexandra Edwards

June Griffin

Mel Griffith

Ned Hickson

Jerry Keys

Joe Kirkpatrick

Pastor Joel Lawler

Pauline Murphy

Cecil Owen

Pettus Read

Tonya Brantley

Katie McFadden

Chloe Lawler

By Tonya Brantley
Managing Editor

With financial turmoil striking the world and a $700 billion dollar bail-out for the United States financial system, confidence in the financial market is waning. Even though there's been an injection of government money, people are losing confidence in the banking system.

Federal regulators are scrambling to improve their image after failing to control the downward spiraling mortgage crisis. International money markets  have been rocked by the failure of US regulators to do their job effectively. Much of the blame is being leveled against state regulatory bodies that are charged with overseeing banking at the local level. In Tennessee, regulators are experiencing their fair share of image problems but do not seem to be exhibiting as much enthusiasm to correct them as their federal counterparts. One local bank examiner accused of offering to fix the books of an Athens finance company, avoided going to trial and the resulting public scrutiny by invoking what is called diversion.





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With the help of the legal system, he was able to dodge any real punishment and even have all record of the event wiped out.

On June 19, 2008, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation arrested John Mark Stewart, 32, a Cleveland, TN resident, and booked him into the McMinn County Jail on a $20,000 bond after he was indicted by the McMinn County Grand Jury on four counts of official misconduct. Stewart worked as a loan examiner for the Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions. His job was to perform audits, examine records, assess and evaluate the performance of various banks, bank branches and lending institutions with regards to compliance to regulations, laws, bank policies and procedures. He attempted to use his position to gain an unfair advantage, although Assistant District Attorney for the 10th Judicial District, Andrew Freiberg said no actual services were rendered and no money ever changed hands.

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According to McMinn County Criminal Court records, the four counts of official misconduct read as follows: The Grand Jurors upon their oath do present that John Mark Stewart on or between the 1st day of May, 2008 and the 17th day of June, 2008, in McMinn County, Tennessee, and before the finding of this indictment, a public servant as an examiner with the Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions, did unlawfully and intentionally or knowingly, with the intent to obtain a benefit, to wit: the satisfaction of personal debt, commit an act relating to the servant's office or employment that exceeds the servant's official power, commit and act under color of office or employment that exceeds the servant's official power, refrain from performing a duty that is imposed by law or that is clearly inherent in the nature of the servant's office or employment, and violate a law relating to the servant's office or employment in violation of T.C.A. 39-16-402, all of which is against the peace and dignity of the State of Tennessee.

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Do you believe the Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions should be employing a bank examiner who has been proven untrustworthy?
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Information from a media release from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations states that Stewart was investigated by the T.B.I. after the District Attorney requested agents to look into allegations of inappropriate business conduct. Stewart was accused of approaching Stan Womac, president of First Financial of Tennessee in Athens, TN, and offering to examine his financial records for a fee. Stewart's offer was to work secretly and check the books twice monthly for a fee of $25,000. The fee was to insure that the business would always pass an examination by the Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions and avoid any current or future fines levied by the department. Womac informed the police about the offer made by Stewart.

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The People News
PO Box 3921
Cleveland TN. 37320
(423) 559-2150  Fax 559-1044

Pete Edwards, Editor - Publisher
Tonya Brantley, Managing Editor

Copyright 2008 (All rights reserved)

Included in the T.B.I.'s investigation were recorded conversations in which Stewart was trying to bribe Stan Womac.When asked to comment about this ordeal with Stewart, Womac said, "I hated it for the boy, him and his family, but I don't do business that way. I was really shocked when it happened, but I couldn't go along with it." Immediately following his arrest, Stewart was placed on administrative leave by the Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions and is believed to have continued to draw his state salary as a bank examiner.

On September 29, 2008,  Criminal Court Judge Carroll Ross, granted Stewart what is called pre-trial diversion. To satisfy Ross' order, Stewart must participate in a pre-trial diversion project for one year without any additional violations. Pre-trial diversion involves an agreement to suspend prosecution up to two years while the defendant completes a probationary period. After successful completion of the probationary period, the charge is dismissed and the defendant may apply for expungement, the erasing of all official record of the event.

Pre-trial diversion differs from judicial diversion in that pretrial diversion involves no provisional guilty or "nolo" plea. Stewart will be cleared of the four counts of official misconduct if he successfully completes the program and abides by the following conditions: Refrain from any violations of the law, and conduct himself in a manner consistent with good citizenship, cooperate with the pre-trial diversion project; i.e. follow probationary requirements, and pay court costs. The program allows Stewart to avoid having to make a formal plea in court and to explain his actions. Assistant District Attorney Andrew Freiberg said the diversion program was granted because Stewart has not been previously convicted of any other felony or misdemeanor crimes.

When asked if Stewart was still employed by the Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions, Cullen Earnest, the Legislative Liaison / Communications Director with that department said, "We have been going back and forth on what we can and cannot say with our lawyers. I personally have to make sure I'm not giving out confidential information before I can give you an answer." Via e-mail, Earnest later informed The People News that Stewart was indeed still employed by the Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions as a loan examiner-3 and that he has been employed with the department since October 1, 2005.

When asked if Stewart currently resides in Nashville where the Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions is located, Earnest said,  "Residential information concerning Tennessee state employees is confidential under the Tennessee Public Records Act, specifically T.C.A 10-7-504 (f)(1)(D)(i), and, therefore, we cannot disclose information about where Mr. Stewart currently resides." According to a T.B.I. press release, Stewart is a resident of Cleveland, TN.

This paper also attempted to find out if Stewart was being paid or still on salary while the trial and court proceedings were taking place. Earnest said, "Pursuant to T.C.A. 45-1-120, information from the records of the Department of Financial Institutions is confidential. After reviewing the Tennessee Code, it is apparent that The People News was not asking for information that is protected under the code, the Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions simply refused to answer our questions.

Given the current circumstances with the United States banking system, the public has concerns that the punishment for acts such as the ones allegedly committed by John Mark Stewart, does not fit the crime and that is one of many reasons why the financial system is in a downward spiral.


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