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VOL. 123 | NO. 42 | Friday, February 29, 2008

Breen Orders Ford to Prison

By Bill Dries

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JAIL TIME: Former state Sen. John Ford leaves the Federal Building Thursday after U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Breen ordered him to begin serving a five-and-a-half-year prison sentence within the next two months. Ford was convicted in April of bribery in the Operation Tennessee Waltz corruption sting. -- Photo By Bill Dries

Former state Sen. John Ford was ordered Thursday to begin serving in the next two months his five-and-a-half year prison sentence for a bribery charge.

U.S. District Court Judge J. Daniel Breen ruled on the second day of a hearing that involved who will care for Ford's four minor children. Breen delayed Ford's prison report date last year after his ex-wife, Tamara Mitchell-Ford, lost custody of the children and began serving her own prison sentence for drunk driving.

Thursday, her attorneys told Breen she will probably remain in prison on that and another drunk driving conviction at least until May 2009.

"In some respects, we are back to the same situation we were in November," Breen said. "The sentence should be imposed and served."

And that's that

After the hearing it was unclear whether the federal Bureau of Prisons would assign Ford a new prison or still have him report to the federal facility in Anthony, Texas, that was originally assigned.

"We'll have to see what the Bureau of Prisons says about that," Ford's attorney, Robert Brooks, told The Daily News after the hearing. "Really, the Bureau of Prisons is the one that determines where he goes and when he goes. The judge can't order the Bureau of Prisons to take him in 60 days and put him anywhere in particular."

Ford testified Wednesday about how he cares for the children. But prosecutors questioned him closely about the arrangement in which the children live with his girlfriend, Connie Matthews, while Ford continues to live in an apartment he's rented for the last two years. Ford referred to the house, which is scheduled to be foreclosed on Monday, as the "home house" with Matthews doing some cooking and cleaning on occasion. Ford said his apartment, where he lives with a different woman, is a backup location for the children after the foreclosure.

"For the last 30 days, we've been on pins and needles," Ford testified. "We had to have a place big enough to put them. ... I cannot leave them out in the cold."

Cold world out there

Breen didn't rule on any custody arrangements for the children once Ford reports to prison. But he commented, "There are a number of individuals in the Ford family."

The comments and ruling came after Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim DiScenza argued Ford had had "an incredible amount of time" to make arrangements for custody of the children.

"He has had a year since this conviction. It is time for Mr. Ford to start serving his sentence," DiScenza said in court.

Brooks countered by telling Breen that courts frequently stagger report dates for parents in cases where both are convicted and sentenced to jail.

"What more can (Ford) do? The mother of his children is locked up," Brooks said. "He's doing everything he can to provide for the children until she is released. ... We're not even talking about that long a time."

Ford was convicted in April on a bribery charge for taking money from undercover FBI agents posing as corrupt executives of a bogus business. The 2004-2005 sting operation was named Operation Tennessee Waltz and Ford is one of a dozen defendants, most of them state legislators, who have either pleaded guilty or been convicted by juries.

Ford was sentenced in August by Breen.

Ford's trial on a second set of corruption charges is scheduled to begin in Nashville federal court in June. The case involves Ford's work as a consultant for TennCare contractors. Prosecutors in the Memphis case have said Ford could be transferred to a federal prison near Nashville during the trial and continue to serve his sentence.

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