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Strunk to remain behind bars
Jan 09, 2006 12:00 am
January 6, 2005
HARTSVILLE — Though prosecutors say they are not sure of his true identity, the man known to many Middle Tennessee residents as Fred Earl Strunk will remain behind bars for now.
After a nearly four hour pair of hearings Friday, Strunk was bound over to a grand jury in a case where he is accused of running a massive marijuana growing operation in underground caves excavated under a Dixon Springs home while using perhaps as many as six different aliases.
"This is the first case we've dealt with in my 20-year career where we don't really know who we are dealing with," Assistant District Attorney David Durham said after the hearing.
Strunk's $15 million bail also remained in place with Trousdale County General Sessions Court Judge Kenny Linville saying he wanted to hear from defense attorneys about possible electronic monitoring options before a lower bail would be considered.
The lengthy hearing publicly peeled back the layers on the alleged drug operation officials say had bases in Florida and Tennessee.
Fifteenth Judicial District Drug Task Force Director Michael Thompson testified Florida law enforcement officials and Task Force officers confiscated several government-issued driver's licenses and social security cards at Strunk's Homosassa Springs, Fla. home. The multiple cards established at least six different identities for the man many in Wilson and Trousdale counties know as Fred Earl Strunk.
In addition to the government ID cards, apparently forged school transcripts from the now-defunct Castle Heights Military Academy in Lebanon and certificates of baptism from Church of Christ congregations from Ohio were found that matched most of the faked identities.
In most cases, a single set of documents with matching names consisting of a driver's license, passport, social security card, school transcript, credit cards and baptism certificate were found in a wallet or bag. All of the various wallets and small bags containing each individual identity were found in two boxes lashed to the bottom of an elevator found in the $1.3 million Florida home.
Official stamps from the former military academy and Hamilton County, Ohio, county government were also found that appeared to match the forged transcripts and church documents.
Thompson explained officers also discovered three fully automatic machine guns, three handguns and six silencers in Strunk's Florida residence. The Florida search turned up a Wilson County Sheriff's deputy badge and a deputy commission paper issued during the 1980s to Fred Strunk. Wilson County Sheriff Terry Ashe said after the hearing the badge was a fake.
Perhaps the most damaging evidence found in the Florida home were pictures of Strunk that Thompson said were taken in the cave under the Hartsville home during the excavation of the alleged grow room operation.
Thompson's testimony revealed the Hartsville growing operation was based on a sophisticated book found in the Florida home and now nicknamed by police the "Drug Bible." The white, three-ring binder with a colored cover and tabbed sections instructed employees of the drug operation how to run the grow rooms, establishing policies and procedures for the alleged criminal enterprise.
Thompson said the key quote in the book was the phrase "no procedural changes without Jerry's approval." Thompson testified when he first met Strunk in 1996 at the Dixon Springs home he identified himself as Jerry Reason West, only one of Strunk's alleged aliases and identities.
A Dec. 14 raid on the Hartsville home turned up an underground series of rooms — including an office, kitchen and bedrooms — hidden behind a fake concrete wall in the house. Inside the rooms were more than 850 marijuana plants in various stages of maturity which had an estimated street value of $1 million, Thompson said.
Finally, prosecutors presented documents on file with Trousdale County government showing the Dixon Springs home had been purchased by a Jerry West in 1996 and transferred several times beginning in 2003 to names matching several of Strunk's alleged aliases.
The most recent deed transferring ownership of the Dixon Springs home was in May 2005, from Fred E. Fox to Fred E. Grant, names matching some of Strunk's aliases and identity documents found in the Florida residence. Thompson testified the particular deed was notarized last year by a Shannon Embry — a girlfriend of Strunk's who died in 2002.
The hearing grew outright combative during cross examination of Thompson by Lebanon defense attorney B.F. "Jack" Lowery.
Lowery repeatedly challenged the validity of the government's case, saying Thompson's Task Force had not placed Strunk in the Dixon Springs home in the presence of any marijuana.
"I am asking can you physically put him on site," Lowery said, adding later. "By any stretch of the imagination, they can't say he was there, between 1996 to when he was arrested last year."
Lowery and Durham also sparred extensively over the $15 million bail with Durham at one point asking the court to double Strunk's bail to $30 million.
"This man is not like other defendants," Durham said. "He has access to monstrous amounts of money, numerous passports. He can be anybody he wants to be. How can any amount of money secure his appearance in court?"
"Our position is that this bail is tantamount to no bail at all," said Jack Lowery Jr., Lowery's son and law partner.
Linville said he would consider the information on electronic monitoring from Lowery and possible sponsorship of Strunk by local residents before setting a new bail amount next week.
Managing Editor Clint Brewer can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 13 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.