Federal trial of Tennessee state lawmaker starts Tuesday

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Just days before Tennessee’s primaries, one veteran state lawmaker won’t be battling on a ballot, but in federal court fighting fraud and tax evasion charges.

Federal prosecutors allege that Democratic state Rep. Joe Armstrong of Knoxville devised a scheme to profit from a state cigarette tax hike in 2007 and then failed to report more than $318,000 in earnings to the IRS.

The trial begins with jury selection in Knoxville on Tuesday.

Armstrong’s attorneys had unsuccessfully sought to keep the defendant’s role as a state lawmaker from the jury, arguing that it would require the defense to fight a political corruption case as opposed to a general tax evasion case.

Prosecutors say Armstrong hid his earnings because he didn’t want to be seen as profiting from Big Tobacco.