Reports of elder abuse prompt raid on legislative candidate’s business

An assisted living facility in Cookeville partly owned by Ed Butler, who is unopposed for the Republican nomination in the state House District 41 seat now held by Democratic Rep. John Mark Windle of Livingston, has been raided by authorities amid reports that some elderly residents have been mistreated.

WTVF TV quotes District Attorney General Bryant Dunaway as saying the facility, now known as Senior Lifestyles LLC, was the target of one of three related search warrants executed Thursday.

Investigators also searched the facility’s administrative offices at 723 West Jackson Street in Cookeville and a car belonging to the operator, Stephanie Butler (wife of Ed Butler).

“The allegations were that the operator of that facility was engaging in financial exploitation and possible elder abuse of some of the residents,” Dunaway said.

The DA said that there were “in excess of 40” residents inside the facility, which is regulated by the Tennessee Department of Mental Health.

“That doesn’t mean all of them are victims,” Dunaway said. “We believe a good many are.”

The investigation is being led by Dunaway’s office. Also assisting in the searches were investigators from the TBI, the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office, the Cookeville Police Department and the 13th Judicial District Drug Task Force.

Case workers from the Department of Mental Health assisted to ensure that residents received proper care, the DA said.

Dunaway added that the evidence would be reviewed and, if wrongdoing is found, the case would be presented to the Putnam County Grand Jury for possible criminal charges.

Nashville Post notes that Butler lost to Windle in 2016 by less than 2,000 votes and, since neither has a primary opponent this year, are assured of a rematch as things stand now.

The Butlers did not comment on the matter. However, this is the second time the living facility has been under investigation. Prior to the Butlers’ purchase, law enforcement discovered that the executive director of the then-owner, the Upper Cumberland Development District, had illegally spent more than $1 million in agency funds on the property, which she utilized as her personal home. She later pleaded guilty to theft of federal funds.

Per the most recent campaign finance disclosure, Butler had only $581 on hand at the end of March. His 2016 race was self-financed to a significant extent, and he has $62,635 in outstanding loans to his campaign.

…According to the Secretary of State’s office, if Butler is convicted of a felony before the primary, his name may be removed from the ballot if the ballots have not already been printed — highly unlikely, given the time fame — but it is too late for Butler to withdraw from the race.

After the primary, Butler can withdraw. But if his withdrawal is not due to a statutory reason — which the office says would include a military call-up, properly documented disability, a forced change of residence for work-related reasons or disqualification by a court — then the party would not be able to nominate a candidate in his place. A felony conviction is a disqualification from a court. A felony conviction would result in disqualification from the ballot, but an indictment would not.

From the Cookeville Herald Citizen:

Senior Lifestyles purchased the Deer Creek Drive facility in May 2014 at an auction. The property was formerly known as Living the Dream, the subject of a comptroller’s audit that found funds were misappropriated and the Upper Cumberland Development District’s former director, Wendy Askins, profited personally from the project.

Askins was indicted by a federal grand jury on counts of conspiracy, embezzlement, bank fraud and unlawful monetary transactions. She pleaded guilty to two counts of embezzling funds from a program receiving federal funds in 2016 and was released from prison in April after serving 18 months.

According to the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, the facility on Deer Creek Drive has a capacity of 50 and serves mobile non-ambulatory and vision-impaired patients.

Note:  Butler’s campaign website is HERE.

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