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VOL. 123 | NO. 40 | Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Ford Report Date Put Off Until Thursday

By Bill Dries

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U.S. District Judge J. Daniel Breen has continued until Thursday a hearing on when former State Sen. John Ford must report to prison.

At a hearing this morning, Breen said he wants to hear from the attorney for Ford’s imprisoned ex-wife about when she might be released from prison and be able to care for their children.

Ford was convicted in April of bribery in the Operation Tennessee Waltz corruption sting. He was sentenced in August to five and a half years in prison. But Breen delayed Ford’s prison report date last year because Ford’s ex-wife, Tamara Mitchell Ford, is imprisoned on a drunk driving conviction and lost legal custody of their children. Ford has custody of the children.

But in court Wednesday, prosecutors questioned whether Ford tends to the daily needs of the children or whether his girlfriend, Connie Matthews, who also has children by Ford, fills that role.

Ford said Matthews only helps “occasionally” with the care of the children.

“I have taken them every day, except when I’m in Nashville, to school,” he testified. “I take them grocery shopping.”

Ford has been working at N.J. Ford & Sons Funeral Parlor since resigning from the Senate and losing several lucrative consulting contracts.

He is awaiting trial in Nashville federal court on a separate set of corruption charges related to his work as a consultant for a TennCare contractor. Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell reset the Nashville trial for June 24.

But prosecutors in the Memphis case have said Ford can begin serving his prison sentence in a federal facility near Nashville as the trial is under way.

Ford testified that he has a “home house” where the four children live with Matthews doing some cooking and cleaning at times, as well as a two-room apartment he’s rented for two years. When questioned by Assistant U.S. AttorneyTim DiScenza, Ford did not deny that he lives at the apartment with another woman. Ford said the house where the children live is to be foreclosed on Monday and the apartment is the backup location – “refuge of last resort”– for the children once that happens.

“For the last 30 days, we’ve been on pins and needles,” Ford said of the pending foreclosure. “We had to have a place big enough to put them. … I cannot leave them out in the cold.”

“We started this process many, many months ago,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Lorraine Craig told Breen. “How is Mr. Ford any different from any other parent who goes to jail? He is asking you to treat him differently. How much longer does he need? When does this end?”

Craig urged Breen to give Ford a prison report date.

“Make him do it,” she said.

Breen closely questioned Ford’s attorney, Robert Brooks, about a timetable.

“I don’t know when she’s getting out of jail,” Breen said at one point of Tamara Mitchell Ford. “I really haven’t heard anything different than I heard in November. There should have been something done.”

The hearing resumes Thursday at 9 a.m.

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