By Jonathan Pleasant
Nearly eight years ago Billy Luther Jones pulled off a series of schemes that ultimately resulted in the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars from over a half dozen victims in the Butler/Dry Run area. An apparent pro at the art of conning people, Jones was able to work his way into these individuals lives only to abuse their trust once he was in the right position. Using his fake Viper Industries business as a front, Jones wrote worthless checks, sold land he did not own, and stole money on the pretense of establishing business partnerships.
When the victims were finally able to bring enough attention to the situation to involve the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation in 2010, Jones used problems with his health as an excuse to stay out of jail and even had his bond reduced to accommodate his financial situation. Turning the case over to the District Attorneys office, Jones was charged with five felony counts, two in an amount over $60,000 and three over $10,000. One of the biggest amounts, owed to Terry and Elizabeth Wallace of Butler, carries the same weight in state law as would a bank robbery.
Then after two more years of delays and discussion, Jones finally pled guilty to all the charges, coming before Judge Lynn Brown in December of 2012 to receive sentencing. This was the first time that the victims had the opportunity to voice their side of the story, and many like Richard and Carolyn Dugger were hopeful of a favorable ruling. Yet, even though Brown himself admitted that such a crime carries a minimum sentence of eight years, the judge decided instead to give Jones 30 years of unsupervised probation along with requirements to submit his tax return each year and pay the victims $100 a month, in turn.
Shocking everyone present, Brown based his decision on Jones age and health, although there was no significant evidence to prove that he actually had a medical issue. After such a long, hard fought battle the victims were naturally very displeased with the outcome. Judge Brown seemed to ignore the people who pay his salary, said Ben Logan, one of the five listed in the case. He allowed a guilty man to go free and evidence seems to show that Bill Jones continues to scam people to this day. He will never be able to look in a mirror and be proud of his career.
Tracy Steffey who lost most of her family inheritance to Jones, seemed to share a similar regard when she said, I was very disappointed and let down by the justice system. I just feel that its all been a waste of time. Brown told us he was too old to go to jail, but he wasnt too old to steal our money. They have never done anything but slap the criminals on the wrist and let them go. What the judges are portraying to the public is that they can do whatever they want to do and get away with it, and now Im having to work two jobs just to keep my head above water.
Judge Brown did require Jones to formally give an apology to the victims, but it was a very poor token compared to the damage done to local businesses, including Logan Homes and Dry Hill General Store, as well as the lasting financial burden placed on the victims personal lives. Regardless, most left the courtroom feeling that they had no further option, until a few weeks ago when District Attorney Tony Clark sent out information that Jones would once again be back in the courtroom on July 26th, 2013.
Although he readily accepted his sentencing, Jones has yet to fulfill even the meager requirements set forth by Judge Brown. With no tax return submitted, Clarks office filed a motion of just cause to bring the admitted criminal back before a judge, and once again the victims are hopeful to finally see justice.
In my own point of view the man didnt do what the judge said, commented Elizabeth Wallace. These judges now have the chance to make this man pay for what he did. He should not have an opportunity to say I didnt know that. It was right on his papers. To let this man go was a crime against the victims. He pled guilty. He pled guilty to all of them. Its a shame.
Wallace was also very disappointed with the earlier ruling, but is hopeful that this time around the verdict might finally bring her some peace. Although Jones has repeatedly made his way into the courtroom on a walker, Wallace was able to provide evidence that he has been working regularly at the Tri-Cities Flea Market in Bluff City, and her biggest fear is that this con artist will strike again with a new set of victims.
We know weve lost our money, Wallace said. Weve accepted that but we cant accept that this man is going to be out here doing it again, destroying someone elses life. If its against the law to put this man in the penitentiary for five felonies and let him go this time after he disobeyed the judges order, after hes destroyed all these peoples lives, then there is no justice system. The people of the community and the county really need to start getting involved if they let this man go free. If its illegal to put this man in jail then I might as well go rob the bank. If the people of this community would like to see justice then they need to come out and show their support for these victims. They cant set back and let these types of things continue.
For Ben Logan, who seemed more doubtful of a positive outcome next week, the only real comfort comes from a much higher ruling. Being a Christian makes it easy for people to take advantage of you because you think people are going to treat you the way you treat others, Logan said. Bill Jones took advantage of us, being God-fearing people, and now we can only hope that the dear Lord will cast judgment on him. It is not our place to judge, we must leave that up to God.
By Jonathan Pleasant