Former executive sued

-A A +A
By Damon Lawrence

One of the people convicted in the Northington Energy LLC scam has filed a federal lawsuit against former Morgan County Executive Becky Ruppe, 9th Judicial District Attorney General Russell Johnson and former 9th Judicial District Assistant District Attorney General Tiffany Smith.

Lisa Horn-Brichetto accuses Johnson, Smith and Ruppe — the latter of whom is now Rockwood city administrator — of violating her First and Eighth Amendment Rights under the Constitution.

Horn-Brichetto and her husband, John Brichetto, were found guilty of felony theft over $60,000 by a Morgan County jury on July 8, 2015.

The Brichettos were principals of Northington Energy LLC, which announced plans in 2006 to build a biodiesel manufacturing facility in Morgan County. The company never produced any biodiesel.

The District Attorney General’s Office said the Brichettos used the biodiesel project to “bilk the state of Tennessee out of $142,215 grant monies or loans.”

In the lawsuit, Horn-Brichetto contends she, “is not now, nor has she ever been a shareholder or officer of Northington.” She further contends that she, “was not a signatory to any promissory note or contract and had no obligation with respect to this loan.”

Her lawsuit also makes multiple references to a “Defamatory Letter.” According to the documents filed in the case, it’s actually a letter that Smith wrote to the Tennessee Board of Parole last year asking that John Brichetto’s parole be denied.

“Inmate Brichetto, and his wife/co-convicted defendant Lisa Horn Brichetto, stole $142,215.15 from the state of Tennessee via a Feedstock Loan Program to a shell company named Northington Energy,” the letter said. “The Brichettos used Northington Energy to obtain funds that were earmarked to jumpstart the soybean industry in Tennessee.”

The couple reportedly used the money for their own personal gain.

“The Brichettos used the money to bankroll a personal lifestyle that included a luxury Land Rover vehicle, ‘Corporate Residence,’ Spa/Salon visits, travel, clothes and thousands of dollars of alcohol,” the letter said. “It was nothing short of a criminal enterprise for the personal gain of the Brichettos.”

The lawsuit was filed in federal court on April 25. The defendants have yet to file an answer to the lawsuit.

Johnson said Tuesday that he’s yet to be served with a copy of it.

Horn-Brichetto is seeking compensatory and punitive damages and a retraction of what she refers to as the “Defamatory Letter.”

“The plaintiff further alleges that this letter was written in furtherance of a conspiracy by defendants to: retaliate for political losses, civil litigation and statements to the press; deny access to the courts; and subject plaintiff to cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the First and Eighth Amendments to the United States Constitution,” the lawsuit said.

Horn-Brichetto is representing herself. According to her lawsuit, she was sentenced to judicial diversion, six years of state probation, and ordered to pay restitution for her conviction.

John Brichetto was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He’s currently incarcerated at the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex. His parole was denied last year.

Johnson is in his second eight-year term as district attorney general for the 9th Judicial District, which is comprised of Roane, Morgan, Loudon and Meigs counties.

Smith resigned earlier this year to take a job with the 5th District Attorney General’s Office in Blount County.

Ruppe lost her re-election bid in 2010. She is now the municipal administrator/city recorder for the city of Rockwood.

During the trial of the Brichettos, Ruppe said the biodiesel plant would have created jobs and helped the farming community. Instead, she said the fiasco with the Brichettos damaged the county’s credibility and made it harder for the county to secure state grants.

Some had doubts about Northington Energy LLC from the get-go, however.

Roane County Executive Ron Woody, then a consultant with the University of Tennessee County Technical Assistance Service, was invited to the groundbreaking in 2006.

“I made the statement that day that it would never produce a gallon (of biodiesel),” he told the Roane County News in 2015.