» Subscribe Today!
More of what you want to know.
The Daily News
X

Forgot your password?
Skip Navigation LinksHome >
VOL. 123 | NO. 41 | Thursday, February 28, 2008

Thompson Pleads Guilty to Fraud

By Bill Dries

Print | Front Page | Email this story | Email reporter | Comments ()

Former Shelby County Board of Commissioners member Bruce Thompson pleaded guilty Wednesday to a federal fraud charge in a corruption case involving a 2004 construction contract to build three Memphis city schools.

The plea came at Thompson's first appearance before U.S. District Judge Jon P. McCalla on the corruption charges he was indicted on in November.

Thompson, 48, is scheduled to be sentenced by McCalla June 6. Under terms of the plea deal, if McCalla sentences him to more than a year and a day in prison, Thompson can withdraw the guilty plea.

Thompson specifically admitted that he took $7,000 from two construction firms, H&M Construction Co. of Jackson, Tenn., and Salton-Fox Construction of Memphis, after he told H&M executives that because of his position as a county commissioner, he could control votes on the Memphis school board. Thompson served one term on the commission from 2002 to 2006.

The construction companies, working in partnership, were seeking a contract in 2004 to build three new city schools. To secure the contract for them, Thompson told the construction executives he needed $7,000 to make campaign contributions to four school board members in 2004.

"I'm not sure what happened to all of it," Thompson said in court when asked by McCalla where the money went. He told McCalla he believed he kept $2,000. Salton kept $2,000 and $3,000 was "made in campaign contributions."


Are you sure?

It was the most that Thompson said other than answering yes or no to McCalla's questions, and Thompson's belief on that point conflicted with U.S. Attorney Tim DiScenza's explanation of what the proof would have been.

At two points, Thompson asked McCalla to repeat some statements - most notably when McCalla reminded him that there was no parole in the federal court system and that by pleading guilty "you will go to prison."

DiScenza made clear at the hearing that the four school board members mentioned by Thompson but not identified in the hearing were not aware of the deal and none is charged with taking the money. DiScenza outlined what the proof would have been if the case had gone to trial.

That proof, he said, would have shown that H&M executives at one point refused to follow Thompson's directions and had other doubts about the scheme before finally getting Salton-Fox to advance the $7,000 to Thompson by check.

A campaign aide to school board member Wanda Halbert had said publicly during the grand jury investigation that construction executive Kirby Salton handed her a $2,000 check at a meeting in which Thompson and Halbert were in the same room. Salton has confirmed the exchange. Halbert has said the money never got to her or her campaign.

Former city school board members Sara Lewis, Willie Brooks and Hubon Sandridge, in addition to Halbert, were called to tesify before the grand jury that later indicted Thompson.

DiScenza said in court that the four board members questioned by federal authorities, whom he did not name, testified that they knew nothing of any exchange of money before the two construction companies got the contract.

Thompson also was paid more than $200,000 as a consultant to both construction companies. But the charge he pleaded guilty to does not involve that part of the arrangement.

Thompson walked quickly to a waiting car outside the federal building after the 45-minute hearing and said nothing to reporters.

His attorney, Leslie Ballin, indicated in court that he and Thompson will likely question some of the facts of the case or what is known as "relevant conduct" during the sentencing hearing, although not Thompson's guilt on the fraud charge.

"Today was a big day for us," Ballin told reporters. "We don't have anything to offer other than what was said in court. Life will go on and we will do what we need to do."

Sign-Up For Our Free Email Edition
Get the news first with our daily email


 
Blog Get more from The Daily News
Blog News, Training & Events
RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 110 154 13,810
MORTGAGES 135 193 18,019
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 1 29 3,534
BUILDING PERMITS 430 430 32,733
BANKRUPTCIES 52 130 13,133
BUSINESS LICENSES 20 45 4,750
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 83 204 20,104
MARRIAGE LICENSES 0 33 4,230

Weekly Edition

Issues | About

The Memphis News: Business, politics, and the public interest.