FBI seizes files from Unicoi County circuit court clerk's office

By Julie Fann & Thomas Wilson
jfann@starhq.com; twilson@starhq.com

   ERWIN -- Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation entered the Unicoi County Court Clerk's office here on Wednesday and seized an unknown number of files, according to a county official.
   What they were looking for remains a mystery. County executive of Unicoi County, Larry Rose, confirmed Thursday that FBI agents had entered the office of Circuit Court Clerk Gregg Masters on Wednesday.
   Rose said the federal agents came to the county courthouse at approximately 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday with a search warrant for the circuit court clerk's office. Federal agents shut down the office until 3:30 p.m. looking at records and extracting files from the office, he said.
   "I have no idea what they found, they made no comments whatsoever," said Rose who called the incident "a total surprise."
   When initially contacted on Wednesday, the Johnson City office of the FBI referred questions about the incident to the Knoxville field office. Telephone calls to the FBI Knoxville office seeking comment about the investigation were not returned.
   Masters was not immediately available for comment on Thursday.
   Rose confirmed agents did take files from the office but he did not know what the files contained. He said he talked with FBI agents while they were there but they did not divulge their reasons for entering the office. No one from the circuit court's office was arrested in the records seizure.
   "I have no idea why they might have been there," he said. "No one knows why they were there; no one knows who contacted them."
   Rose, who was in a meeting when the FBI initially arrived, said he was unaware of how many agents were at the courthouse. He said the office was running with business as usual by 4 p.m. Wednesday and opened for regular business on Thursday.
   First elected to office in August 1976, Masters has held the office for 27 years. The clerk's office is primarily responsible for maintaining circuit court records and documents.