Former state Sen. Kathryn Bowers is due in Memphis federal court this afternoon to be sentenced for taking bribes in the Tennessee Waltz corruption sting.
The hearing comes after Bowers pleaded guilty in July to one count of bribery. By then Bowers had given up the Senate seat she held for only 15 days before she was charged with extortion and bribery in 2005. The guilty plea and resignation from the legislature as well as her post of chairman of the local Democratic Party ended a public life that spanned more than 30 years, starting with service on the Shelby County Election Commission and including five full terms in the state House.
An update on the sentencing hearing will be posted at www.memphisdailynews.com immediately after today's hearing, which starts at 3:30 p.m.
The hearing will be watched not just to see what punishment Bowers draws. The sentence by U.S. District Court Judge J. Daniel Breen will be compared to the sentence he gave former state Sen. Ward Crutchfield of Chattanooga, another Tennessee Waltz defendant.
Breen sentenced Crutchfield to two years' probation in January, citing Crutchfield's failing health. At today's hearing, Bowers too will argue that she should be considered for probation because of longstanding health problems.
The 12 Tennessee Waltz defendants all have either pleaded guilty or been convicted by juries. Several are awaiting sentencing on guilty pleas. Crutchfield is the only one so far who has avoided prison time.
Bowers has apologized in a general way for her conduct in the bribery sting in which undercover FBI agents posed as corrupt executives of a front company called eCycle. They sought legislation favorable to their bogus company by offering bribes to state legislators and others. Bowers was one of the legislators recorded taking money. She was one of the first legislators approached in the sting operation and immediately set up a dinner at a Nashville steak house to introduce the eCycle executives to other legislators.
Because she pleaded guilty, the case against her was never presented in a courtroom. But the trial of former state Sen. John Ford was replete with testimony that implicated Bowers as well as Ford. Ford apparently invited himself to the steak house dinner after learning of it from someone else. It was where he met the eCycle executives who would later record several payments to him totaling thousands of dollars.
As she left the Federal Building this past summer after pleading guilty, Bowers would say nothing specific about what she had done.
"My doctors and myself - we just didn't feel like that I could go through a three- or four-week trial. I decided that I needed to go on since I made some mistakes and I apologize to my friends and family and supporters," she said at the time.
She told reporters that times had changed politically in Nashville and locally as a result of the federal corruption probe.
In court this morning, Bowers is expected to make a more specific admission of guilt. What a defendant says at a sentencing hearing in that regard can affect the sentence he or she receives. Judges can add to or take away from a sentence based on what the sentencing guidelines term "acceptance of responsibility."