TBI expresses disappointment in plea deal for ex-East Tennessee Sheriff

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CLAIBORNE COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) – Former Claiborne County Sheriff David Ray entered a guilty plea on two counts relating to avoiding sales tax in criminal court Wednesday. Ray was sentenced to four years of supervised probation.

In 2018, he was indicted on more than a dozen charges, including seven counts of official misconduct, one count of use of inmates for personal gain, one count of forgery, and six counts of attempt to evade or defeat sales tax.

In the agreement Wednesday, all but two of the charges were dropped.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation released a statement Wednesday expressing disappointment in the 13th Judicial District’s plea agreement.

In spite of today’s developments, we are proud of the many years of work our Special Agents invested in this case. We have respectfully shared with District Attorney General Dunaway our opinion that this plea deal does not adequately address the crimes committed while holding an office that demands such high public trust.

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation release

Bryant Dunaway, District Attorney General for the 13th judicial district based in middle Tennessee, serves as District Attorney Pro-Tem in the Ray case. He credited the hard work of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Tennessee Department of Revenue for the two convictions Wednesday.

In court, he cited Ray buying two trucks from individuals. He said Ray reported them as trades, to avoid paying taxes, and registered them in his grandson’s name. He told the court there was no trade, and the false information resulted in the collection of no sales tax.

While Dunaway acknowledged the agreement was not a “perfect scenario,” he called it just. “It’s a resolution that prevents David Michael Ray from ever serving in public office anymore. It prevents him from ever serving in law enforcement anymore…and it also required him to stand up…and acknowledge, in public, the fact he has committed two felony offenses and that he has done wrong and that he has committed some dishonesty. For the people of Claiborne county, I think that’s a good thing.”

Jeff Daniel, Ray’s attorney, said Wednesday the agreement was “fair,” though he was “prepared to defend against” the other charges in a trial set for later this month. He noted in court those actions were by Ray, the individual. “His role as sheriff had nothing to do with the fact the sales tax was avoided,” he said.

“Everyone I’ve met that knows David personally is behind him, has been supportive of him throughout this process. It’s a chapter he’s not been proud of, but unfortunately, it’s probably overshadowed a lot of good things he’s done.”

Bobby Davis said the convictions won’t sway his opinion of the former Sheriff. “I think he treated people fairly. But, he made somebody mad. Somebody decided they were going to get him. That’s what they done,” he said.

Daniel pointed to his client’s decades of service to the state, as a highway patrolman, a sessions court judge, and also as Claiborne County’s Sheriff for three terms. this is a chapter of his life he’s been anxious to get behind him. today he’s admitted to some mistakes, he’s trying to get this behind him, and move on, hopefully towards retirement with his family.

As to whether the Ray will be eligible to earn pension benefits, Daniel said that is something they’ll have to look at, now that they’re able to put the criminal case behind them.

Ray was also ordered to pay $901.80 to Claiborne County for the unpaid taxes.

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