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

Forgot your password?
TDN Services
Research millions of people and properties [+]
Monitor any person, property or company [+]

Skip Navigation LinksHome >
VOL. 123 | NO. 72 | Friday, April 11, 2008

Hooks Jr., Other Corruption Cases In Court This Week

By Bill Dries

Print | Front Page | Email this story | Email reporter | Comments ()
AFTERMATH: Attorney Mark McDaniel is shown after his client, Dennis Churchwell, pleaded guilty this week to a perjury charge in Memphis federal court. Churchwell admitted he lied to a federal grand jury about whether former City Council member Edmund Ford Sr. was current on his rent payments to Churchwell. "He is not cooperating with the government in any investigation," McDaniel told reporters.
-- Photo By Bill Dries

Before there was a Tennessee Waltz corruption sting, there was the matter of finding a job for Michael Hooks Jr.

His father, former Shelby County Board of Commissioners member Michael Hooks Sr., had supported Shep Wilbun's successful bid to win appointment as Juvenile Court clerk in 2000. In return for that support, he wanted a job for his son.

The younger Hooks was sentenced to a month in prison this week for his part in the political scenario.

After Hooks Jr.'s release from prison, U.S. District Court Judge J. Daniel Breen ordered four months of home detention. Breen imposed no fine and ordered no restitution. Prosecutors said they believe just less than $5,000 was involved in the scheme, which was based on fraudulent consultant invoices for work that was supposed to be done for the Juvenile Court Clerk's office. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim DiScenza conceded there was not proof of the exact amount.

Hooks' attorney, Glen Reid, put the amount involved at around $2,000. Federal sentencing guidelines for the offense ranged from probation to six months in prison.

"I simply should not have been involved in this situation," Hooks told Breen at the hearing Wednesday. "And I have no one to blame but myself."

Follow the money

Hooks didn't get a job with the clerk's office. He got a consulting contract with help from his friend, Tim Willis, who later would become the FBI informant who worked undercover in the Tennessee Waltz corruption sting. The sting would snare the elder Hooks, who is serving a two-year and two-month prison term for bribery.

Willis was caught by the Feds lying to a federal grand jury about the contract in a general investigation of the clerk's office during Wilbun's tenure. Wilbun, who is now a Shelby County election commissioner, was not charged with any wrongdoing in the contract scheme.

Willis gave up Hooks and clerk's office supervisor Darrell Catron in the scheme that involved falsified invoices for work that was never done. The first scenario of putting Hooks on the clerk's payroll was abandoned because of the attention it would have drawn.

Because the scheme didn't involve Hooks' position as a school board member, Reid argued that it was "not a crime of political corruption."

"He had no idea that the deal was being made," Reid told Breen. "It didn't start out as a crime. It started out that there would be work done. Michael's mistake ... was accepting money for work he did not do."

DiScenza differed with the idea that Hooks' crime wasn't politically based even if it didn't involve his school board duties.

"This was a case of political corruption ... to defraud a political entity," he said in court. "It was more than just taking the money."

Hooks told Breen there were things in the indictment he wasn't guilty of but also things he was guilty of. He didn't elaborate in court and didn't comment as he left the federal building. He pleaded guilty in January to one count of theft.

Hooks said this week he intends to continue to serve as a "mentor" to others, albeit with a different perspective.

He termed his life an example of "our young people need to hear and they respect real life examples."

He also added, "I don't have any desire to be elected again."

Corruption cornucopia

As Hooks was being sentenced by Breen, there were developments in another corruption case in another courtroom.

Dennis Churchwell pleaded guilty Wednesday to one count of perjury. Churchwell is the former landlord of former Memphis City Council member Edmund Ford Sr.

He was specifically charged with lying to a federal grand jury about when he filed his tax returns and about whether Ford paid his rent on the E.H. Ford Mortuary.

The Churchwell indictment alleges that Churchwell let Ford forgo paying rent in exchange for Ford's vote in favor of a zoning change on other property Churchwell and his wife owned nearby. But neither Ford nor Churchwell is charged with any wrongdoing connected to such an alleged scheme.

Churchwell pleaded guilty this week to one count of lying about whether Ford was current on his rent for 2005.

His attorney, Mark McDaniel, told The Daily News the plea does not mean Churchwell is involved in any investigation of the specific rent swap allegation.

"He is not cooperating with the government in any investigation," McDaniel said.

Ford faces corruption charges in two cases. One alleges that he sold his council vote on a billboard zoning matter for money paid by former County Commissioner Joe Cooper, who was recording the alleged payoffs for the FBI.

The other alleges that he and co-defendant Joseph Lee, the former president of Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division, had an arrangement in which Lee let Ford run up more than $16,000 in overdue utility bills in exchange for Ford's support and political influence as a council member. Ford and Lee each have maintained their innocence and are awaiting trial later this year.

Churchwell had been scheduled to go to trial starting Monday before U.S. District Judge Bernice Donald. Instead, Donald set a sentencing date of Aug. 5 for Churchwell.

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