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VOL. 122 | NO. 243 | Friday, December 21, 2007

Feds ‘Strenuously’ Disagree With Mays’s Ruling About Ford and Lee Trials

By Bill Dries

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Federal prosecutors plan to ask U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays to reconsider Wednesday’s ruling separating the corruption cases and trials of Memphis City Council member Edmund Ford and former Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division president Joseph Lee.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Larry Laurenzi told Mays at the half hour hearing Downtown Thursday that the government agrees with the court’s decision to separate the pending charges against Lee and Ford. They were charged together with two separate and distinct acts of corruption in a single indictment.

In one set of counts, Ford is accused of taking bribes to vote for a billboard zoning matter. That allegation has nothing to do with Lee.

The second set of counts in the indictment accuses Ford and Lee of having an arrangement in which Ford supported Lee as president of the utility in exchange for Ford getting a break on paying utility bills for his business.

Laurenzi said the prosecution “strenuously” disagrees with the other part of May’s ruling. In that part, Mays held that the single indictment violated the rules of criminal procedure and had prejudiced the case to the degree that Lee and Ford should be tried separately on the MLGW allegations.

That was the ruling Lee’s attorney, Robert Spence, favored. But Ford’s attorney, Michael Scholl, indicated he and his client are against severing the defendants on the MLGW charges.

Mays told Laurenzi he would consider “in good faith” any motion to reconsider his ruling.

“There is no question in my mind that at least the counts should be severed. If these two are tried together, I think there is a serious problem,” Mays said of the decision to sever the MLGW allegations from the billboard allegations.

He also told Laurenzi, “It’s very clear that if you filed the matters separately, this wouldn’t be an issue.”

Laurenzi raised the possibility of the government essentially starting from ground zero in the case, dismissing some or all of the counts and making their case for a new indictment to a federal grand jury on the same charges. At this point, it’s nothing more than a possibility raised informally in court.

Spence said, after the hearing, that such a move would be “unusual” but ultimately a decision prosecutors would have to make on their own.

Laurenzi has a deadline of Jan. 10 to file his motion for Mays to reconsider. Spence will then have until Jan. 17 to respond in writing. All sides will be back in court Jan. 25 with a tentative trial date of Feb. 4. The trial date is likely to change into several trial dates if Mays’ ruling stands.

Look for a Daily News overview of the corruption cases and the personalities involved in those cases in Wednesday’s edition.

PROPERTY SALES 69 163 12,921
MORTGAGES 35 85 8,088
BUILDING PERMITS 109 531 30,465
BANKRUPTCIES 18 85 6,149