Pubdate: Sun, 27 Jul 2008
Source: Knoxville News-Sentinel (TN)
Copyright: 2008 The Knoxville News-Sentinel Co.
Author: J.J. Stambaugh
Bookmark: (Corruption - United States)


While On Drug Task Force, Shults Became Addict, Stole

SEVIERVILLE - A former 4th Judicial District Drug Task Force agent who
became addicted to drugs may soon end up in prison for stealing money
from suspects and his agency, authorities say.

Mark Victor Shults, 35, has pleaded guilty to three counts of theft
over $1,000 - a felony - and is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 5 by
Sevier County Circuit Court Judge Richard Vance.

Shults was a Sevier County Sheriff's Department deputy when he was
assigned to work for the drug task force, comprising officers from law
enforcement agencies in Sevier, Cocke, Jefferson and Grainger
counties, according to Assistant District Attorney General Steve Hawkins.

At some point, Shults apparently became addicted to the drugs that he
was supposed to be taking off the streets and began stealing from both
suspects and the task force itself, Hawkins said.

As a result of Shults' misconduct, prosecutors have been forced to
drop charges against several people whom Shults accused of being drug
dealers, he said.

"His credibility is worthless now, and we're not going to try to
convict someone based on his word," Hawkins said.

According to Hawkins, Shults stole money from suspects in two
incidents - a traffic stop and during the execution of a search
warrant in 2006. Also, Shults took money from another agent's
investigative funds - cash that was supposed to be used to make drug

When the second agent reported concerns to task force director Mack
Smith, an internal investigation quickly uncovered the misconduct, and
District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn was promptly notified, Hawkins

In addition to the cost to the criminal justice system's integrity,
Shults' thefts have prevented the task force from adequately balancing
its books and triggered a finding against the agency in an audit
released June 30 of this year by the state comptroller's office.

On June 30, 2007 - more than three months after Shults was indicted -
the task force still had a shortfall of $1,244, although Shults had
repaid most of the $5,704 he stole, the audit said.

Shults' attorney, Joe Baker, said Shults intends to pay back all the
stolen money. Baker also said he hopes to win probation for his client.

"Mark Shults was a fantastic law enforcement officer," Baker said. "He
was dedicated to his job, his family and his community. Unfortunately,
he became addicted to prescription medication, and that was the root
of his crime.

"Since leaving the task force, he's worked to repay all the monies
that were taken, he has completed a yearlong treatment program and is
currently a successful lawn-care business owner. He is taking care of
his family as a good father and husband. He has accepted full
responsibility for his actions and is doing all the things he can to
make things right."

Earlier this month, Smith, the task force head, apologized after a
Seymour man was incorrectly arrested due to a task force mistake. The
unidentified agent involved in that has been removed from the task

Despite the recent problems, Hawkins said that Smith - who couldn't be
reached for comment - has repeatedly shown himself committed to the
highest standards of integrity.

"We're very proud of Mack Smith," Hawkins said. "Anytime he's seen any
irregularities whatsoever, he's contacted us and wanted to do the
right thing, whether it's crooked agents working for him or someone
being falsely arrested."

When Shults is sentenced, Hawkins plans to ask that the former lawman
be jailed, although he has no prior criminal record and the thefts
were nonviolent offenses.

"This is a case involving a law enforcement officer who was charged
not only with obeying the law but with enforcing it," Hawkins said.
"The harm to law enforcement and the task force was great."
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