At a news conference on Monday afternoon at the Community Center, East Ridge Mayor Brent Lambert played three different audio recordings of conversations he had with County Commissioner Tim Boyd that are the basis for an extortion charge having been brought by a Hamilton County Grand Jury.
The phone conversations happened between Feb. 16 and Feb 21 in which the two men who are vying for the Republican nomination for Hamilton County Commission District 8 talked about Boyd having damaging information against Lambert and would go public with it if Lambert did not withdraw from the race.
Lambert said he recorded the calls because “I wanted a witness.” Nobody told him to record the calls, he said. Tennessee is a “one-way consent state,” meaning that it is legal to record a conversation in which only one person – in this case Lambert – is aware it is being recorded.
Lambert made the first call to Boyd on Feb. 16 after the Boyd campaign contacted the attorney for the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum – where Lambert is Chief Operating Officer – and telling the attorney that the Boyd “team” had damaging information on Lambert.
During the call Boyd tells Lambert that if the information gets into the public realm, “It’s not going to look good for you, Brent.” Boyd said he told his campaign team to hold off on releasing any information until Boyd spoke to Lambert.
On the tape, Lambert asks Boyd, “what do you want me to do?” Boyd responded, “What I prefer you to do is drop out of the race and everything goes away.”
“If you stay in the race it’s not going to be pretty … “it will be no holds barred,” Boyd stated on the recording.
During a Feb. 20 recorded phone conversation, Boyd said that he did not want to hurt Lambert’s career with the TVRM. He said that the information that he had on Lambert was “blatantly unethical” and that Boyd had seen the documents. Boyd said that his campaign team thought the information was “as juicy as it gets.”
At the press conference Lambert was asked if he had any idea what kind of damaging information Boyd had? Lambert said that he concluded it came from an opinion piece that was posted in early February in East Ridge News Online concerning campaign contributions from the Exit 1 developers.
On the recordings, Lambert wanted an assurance that if he withdrew from the campaign that the damaging information would never be leaked. Boyd gave Lambert his word that the information would be turned over to Lambert.
Also in the tape, Boyd confidentially told Lambert that if elected this would be Boyd’s last term on the commission.
In the final call on Feb. 21, Lambert told Boyd that he had done nothing wrong and that he was staying in the race.
Boyd then told Lambert that “we will see what happens.”
On Monday, the Boyd campaign said that Lambert’s news conference releasing a taped conversation between the two candidates was an attempt to gain political advantage – the same kind of action that Lambert complained of Boyd doing last week.
Lee Davis, recently retained as legal counsel by Boyd in the case, called Lambert’s press conference “a mockery of the legal system.”
“If Mr. Lambert really believes he is the victim of a crime, as he claims to be, it is curious business for him to hold a press conference today to release evidence, as he announced he intends to do,” Davis said in an e-mailed statement.
“As a political candidate, Lambert is holding a press conference today, he says, to release a conversation that he secretly recorded of a political opponent. Puzzlingly, Mr. Lambert initiated the call to Commissioner Tim Boyd for the purpose of recording him. This act by Mr. Lambert, followed by an indictment, and now followed by his announcement that he will release evidence in a pending criminal case, is a mockery of our legal system. Mr. Lambert and those individuals who are helping him with his threats against Commissioner Tim Boyd should be held accountable for their actions.
“My law office will be representing Commissioner Tim Boyd in a court of law on Friday, and we will ask the court to set this matter for trial at the earliest possible opportunity so that we may do our part to seek justice on behalf of Commissioner Tim Boyd and to hold political candidate Brent Lambert accountable for his actions in this matter,” Davis said.
_ East Ridge citizens and other people who wanted to attend the news conference were denied entrance. Lambert was asked about why people were not allowed to come inside the “Orange Room” at the community center. He said that he did not want any disruptions and alluded to the fact that during his tenure as mayor he had been forced to have several people escorted out of City Council meetings who were being disruptive. Lambert said he was not going to let that happen at this news conference.