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VOL. 122 | NO. 163 | Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Ford Sentenced To Five Years And Six Months

By Bill Dries

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John Ford

Former state Sen. John Ford was sentenced Tuesday to five years and six months in prison for taking $55,000 in bribes from undercover FBI agents in the main chapter of the Tennessee Waltz corruption sting.

U.S. District Judge J. Daniel Breen sentenced Ford on the second day of a two day hearing. Under sentencing guidelines, a maximum eight-year prison term was recommended.

"This is a story of power which was used and abused," Breen said to a packed courtroom. He described Ford as a "person of greed and avarice but a person who helped others. It is a tragic dichotomy."

The 'tragic dichotomy'

On the first day of the hearing more than a dozen family members and friends of Ford testified on his behalf and asked Breen for leniency. Ford also testified and admitted wrongdoing.

But Breen ruled that Ford did not accept responsibility for his actions in his statements.

"He's acknowledged remorse, but the court is not convinced that a reduction (of sentence) for acceptance is warranted," Breen said.

Whether Ford acknowledged his guilt was a key point of debate during Tuesday's portion of the hearing.

"This offense strikes at the heart of the democratic process," Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim DiScenza told Breen. "It destroys the fabric of society ... and makes for an electorate that becomes cynical and doesn't vote."

He also criticized fellow state legislators who testified Monday on Ford's behalf and who were interviewed for the confidential pre-sentencing report compiled by the U.S. probation office. Several said Ford tended to talk too much.

"These legislators obviously don't get it," DiScenza said. "The offense is that he sold his office."

Defense attorney Michael Scholl argued that Ford shouldn't be punished for taking the matter to trial since the jury acquitted him on three witness intimidation counts and deadlocked on one extortion count.

Scholl talked of "the persecution of Mr. Ford in the press" and said Ford has suffered. He urged Breen not to overlook the good Ford had done as a legislator.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lorraine Craig questioned the argument.

"He feels persecuted? He has suffered?" she said. "He said the verdict was a mistake. No one persecuted Mr. Ford. He is in this courtroom because of his own criminal conduct."

Breen also ruled that the government's introduction of a $70,000 Rolex watch prosecutors alleged was given to Ford as a bribe by developer Rusty Hyneman in an unrelated matter would not be a factor in the sentencing. That was largely because of Ford's own conflicting statements on government recordings and in the testimony of others about the value of the watch and how he got it. Breen said it was "indicative of Mr. Ford's bravado and braggadocio."

Breen specifically ruled that the government had not established the watch was a bribe based on a preponderance of the evidence.

Noticeably absent from both days of the hearing were any of Ford's politically active relatives. As Monday afternoon's hearing was being held, brother Joe Ford, who is County Commission chairman, was across the Main Street Mall presiding over the bimonthly meeting of the commission.

A jury convicted Ford in May of a single bribery charge. But the same jury acquitted Ford of charges he threatened witnesses. And the jury deadlocked on the more serious extortion charge.

Shakespearean drama

After John Ford was indicted in 2005 and arrested by FBI agents in Nashville, along with several other lawmakers while the legislature was in session, he resigned. It ended a colorful and controversial political career that began in 1971 when Ford upset incumbent City Council member James Netters. Ford was elected to the State Senate in the 1974 elections that also saw his brother, Harold Ford Sr., elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and another brother, Emmitt Ford, elected to the State House on the same ballot.

Breen allowed Ford to remain free on bond pending a report date and prison assignment to be determined by the federal Bureau of Prisons.

Ford still faces trial on federal charges in Nashville that he took kickbacks from TennCare contractors in his role as an elected official. Ford contends he was acting as a legitimate paid consultant for those doing business with the state's version of the Medicaid program.

The Memphis trial featured numerous audio and video recordings of Ford being paid cash by undercover FBI agents posing as corrupt executives of a front company called E-Cycle Management. The company was a sham set up to offer bribes to state legislators and to see who would take the money.

In a key ruling, Breen held that each of the payments constituted a separate act instead of a single act of wrongdoing. The ruling increased Ford's sentence.

Ford is one of 11 defendants in the case. He is one of the 10 who either have been convicted by a jury or who have pleaded guilty. That includes fellow former state Sens. Roscoe Dixon and Kathryn Bowers of Memphis as well as former County Commission chairman Michael Hooks Sr., former County Commission administrator Calvin Williams and local political operative Barry Myers.

The only Tennessee Waltz defendant still awaiting trial is Hooks' son, former Memphis school board chairman Michael Hooks Jr. His trial on embezzlement and obstruction of justice charges is scheduled for December.

PROPERTY SALES 50 389 12,758
MORTGAGES 21 248 8,003
BUILDING PERMITS 295 813 29,934
BANKRUPTCIES 35 164 6,064