Campaign manager indicted

Friday, November 19, 2010

COLUMBIA -- Maury County's grand jury has indicted the political campaign manager who used Sen. Bill Ketron's name during an e-mail "spoofing" to raise money for Councilwoman Debbie Matthews' attempt to unseat the Murfreesboro Republican who represents Marshall County.

"The grand jury indicted on two charges," District Attorney Mike Bottoms said, naming the charges against Chris Atkins of Spring Hill as: "Identity theft ... and ... the other ... a misdemeanor in a little known statute." Grand jury deliberations were on Nov. 3. Results were issued on Wednesday.

Atkins opened a free e-mail account,, to solicit funds for Matthews, a political mistake that had a devastating effect on the Democrat's campaign to unseat the two-term senator, according to testimony during a related civil case hearing last month in Maury County Chancery Court.

Unauthorized use of an individual's name, or similar identifying qualities of the person, for the purpose of fundraising, without prior consent, is the nature of the little known statute explained by the district attorney.

"Identity theft is very similar," Bottoms said.

Typically, identity theft is the use of someone's Social Security number to open an account at a bank, or for a credit card, and then making purchases, or spending money that won't be repaid. That crime is a felony.

Indictment should not be misinterpreted as to imply guilt. That's determined by a trial or a defendant's plea of guilty. When a grand jury indicts someone, it is a statement that the panel has found probable cause to forward the case toward trial.

The misdemeanor in this case alleges an attempt to obtain contributions, a solicitation that became obvious to someone opening the e-mail that would otherwise look like it's from Ketron.

That switch from one person's name being used in the address to a solicitation for money to help defeat him is, in this instance, what's been discussed as spoofing. The deceptive practice on the Internet was the subject of some questions and answers during the civil case hearing that resulted in Judge Robert L. Holloway's Oct. 26 decision to renew his restraining order that officially stopped the spoofing.

Atkins had already stopped doing so since Ketron confronted Matthews about the e-mails during a political debate at Columbia State Community College sponsored by The Daily Herald of Columbia. That night in September she said she was unaware of the e-mails and Holloway has so far found no evidence that she was.

Having reflected on the step toward a criminal court case, the prosecutor pointed out the constitutional protection against being found guilty of the same crime twice.

"Both statutes seem to apply, so that's why we put both in" the presentment to the grand jury, Bottoms said. "Obviously, we can't convict on both."