Hughes released after bond reduction hearing

By Kathy Helms-Hughes
STAR STAFF
khughes@starhq.com

   A Hampton man charged with 52 counts of criminal simulation, two counts of forgery, three counts of theft over $10,000, and numerous other charges was released from Carter County Jail after a bond-reduction hearing Monday.
   Eddie Mike Hughes, 47, 104 Michael Drive, was arrested May 7 following investigation by Special Agent Danny Bowman of Tennessee Highway Patrol's Criminal Investigation Division and Detective Grayson Winters of Elizabethton Police Department's Criminal Investigation Division.
   The Highway Patrol began its investigation of Hughes on Feb. 25. On March 18, Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper Mark Musick, Special Agent Billy Grooms and Special Agent Bowman went to Hughes' residence and seized a 1999 GMC Denalli Yukon on which Hughes was alleged to have altered the certificate of title.
   After receiving consent to search the residence, officers found a black bag inside a 1969 Buick which contained numerous automobile titles and documents for Hughes' failed auto dealership, formerly located on U.S. Highway 19E beside Stateline Drive-In. Officers also found a copy of a check for $36,700. The bag contained fraudulent titles from 10 different states and the District of Columbia, according to Agent Bowman. The minimum loan value on the vehicles and check totaled $560,625.
   Hughes has been held in jail on $381,000 bond since his arrest in May. At Monday's bond reduction hearing, brought by Public Defender Bobby Oaks, County Commissioner Ralph Watson testified as a character witness on Hughes' behalf. Attorney Bill Hampton, original counsel retained to represent Hughes in the case, also testified.
   Judge Robert Cupp, in questioning Agent Bowman, said: "I set a bond that I thought was reasonable. Is there anything at all that you think would make him a risk to the community?"
   Bowman said that in reviewing Hughes' criminal history, "I don't recall any acts of violence -- any domestic violence history."
   Judge Cupp then questioned Hughes, who was put on the stand.
   "Where are you going to work? What are you going to do? You're not going to work on cars," Cupp said.
   Hughes responded that he had a job lined up, for which he was to be paid $800.
   Bowman said it was not specified whether that amount was per week or per month. "The court treated it as $800 per month, which of course, gave him the financial benefit of the doubt."
   In his decision to allow four property owners, including Hughes' mother, to post a total property appearance bond of $297,500, Judge Cupp said, "This is one of those cases nobody's going to able to win." If Hughes remains in jail, Cupp said, the taxpayers will end up footing the bill; Hughes' mother will lose because Hughes borrowed money against her property; and his child will be punished by not having the support of a father.
   However, the judge set several conditions for release: The public defender's office was removed from the case; Hughes was ordered to go to work and resume his parental responsibility; and he was ordered to hire his own attorney. The judge gave him until his next court appearance, July 15, to meet the conditions.
   "Mr. Hughes, I better not hear of anything going on. You cannot do anything with automobiles," Cupp told him.
   Hughes is scheduled to appear at 1 p.m. today in Johnson City General Sessions Court to answer a charge of hindering a secured creditor. Agent Bowman said Hughes also is wanted in Statesboro, N.C., on a $28,000 bad check charge and expressed his frustration at North Carolina's unwillingness to extradite.
   "Myself and the sheriff's office have made several contacts with [North Carolina] authorities to arrange his extradition and explain to them that we border North Carolina, and the proximity of this, and try to effect an arrest for them under fugitive from justice statutes," Bowman said. "They advised that they would not extradite."
   Bowman said Hughes has charges in Tennessee for two checks totaling $12,000. "Those are felonies. I feel like this prosecutor's office would extradite into North Carolina on felony bad checks. I think they have a history of extradition that would prove that to be true."
   Bowman said the investigation is not over. "This investigation is being done in phases. Phase I was the actual interdiction. Interdiction was the seizure of the 1999 GMC Denalli and the recovery of these fake titles and the bad checks.
   "Phase II was an assessment of what we had and the charges associated with that. We found out that several of these titles were, in fact, counterfeit reproductions. I took some Virginia titles to Special Agent Greg Johnson at the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles in Washington County, and it took him a very short amount of time to determine that all of those Virginia titles that I presented him were, in fact, frauds.
   "He made notes and showed me things that did not coincide with Virginia security features on the titles, which every state has."
   Agent Bowman said that if someone holds an older generation Tennessee title up to a light source, "you should see three screaming eagles right on top of each other. That's one of the security features of the older Tennessee titles. There's a new security feature on the current titles," he said.