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VOL. 123 | NO. 13 | Friday, January 18, 2008

Crutchfield Avoids Jail Time, Gets 2 Years Probation

By Bill Dries

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Former state Sen. Ward Crutchfield of Chattanooga avoided jail time Thursday and was instead sentenced to two years probation for taking a bribe in the Tennessee Waltz corruption sting.

In Memphis federal court, U.S. District Judge Daniel Breen cited the poor health of the 79-year-old veteran legislator and former attorney in sentencing him to probation.

Breen ordered the first six months of the probation to be spent under home detention and he fined Crutchfield $3,000. That’s the amount of money Crutchfield was given by Charles Love, a political operative working with FBI agents who posed as corrupt executives of a front company called eCycle.

The bogus company offered bribes to legislators to write and sponsor bills that would benefit the company over other competitors. Crutchfield was among the Senate sponsors of the bill. Love didn’t know the company he was working with was an FBI front until Tennessee Waltz went public in 2005 with his arrest as well as the arrests of Crutchfield, state House member Chris Newton of Chattanooga, former state Sens. John Ford and Roscoe Dixon, both of Memphis, and former State Representative Kathryn Bowers, also of Memphis.

All have either pleaded guilty to or been convicted by juries of federal corruption charges.

Crutchfield pleaded guilty in July to one count of conspiracy. He could have faced a prison term of 12 to 18 months. But after hearing from Crutchfield’s wife, who is a nurse, as well as a physician who examined Crutchfield’s health history, Breen opted for probation.

“The court is not convinced that the Bureau of Prisons is the most appropriate place (for Crutchfield),” Breen said. He cited a medical history that includes diabetes, skin cancer, prostate disease and heart disease that required surgery this month to implant a pacemaker.

Attorney William Farmer attempted to separate his client from other Tennessee Waltz defendants by saying they took bribes while Crutchfield took a “gratuity” from Love for supporting legislation he voted for because he thought it was a good idea.

“You’ve got a crime, if you will, that is a gratuity. … It’s serious, but the law recognizes that it’s not as serious as doing something for something,” Farmer said.

“He’s lost his career. He’s lost his law license. He’s lost what he loves to do. I think it’s time to ask, is it enough.”

Retired Hamilton County Circuit Court Judge Sam Payne made the same distinction between a gratuity and a bribe during his testimony as a character witness for Crutchfield.

“He was well respected. As far as everyone knows, and still knows, he was honest,” Payne said. “I have known him as a lawyer, as a friend and what I call a real public servant.”

Breen didn’t agree with Payne on the nature of what Crutchfield did wrong.

“In a true respect, it was a favor,” Breen said. “It was using the office that Mr. Crutchfield held.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim DiScenza told Breen that the government was not recommending or opposing the defense request for probation. He described Crutchfield’s conduct as “inexplicable.”

DiScenza also said Crutchfield’s case differed from other Tennessee Waltz defendants because the undercover FBI agents didn’t pay Crutchfield as they did in the other cases. Thus, there was only one recording, an audio recording, of Crutchfield and Love, “in which it was clear in the recorded conversation that he (Crutchfield) was taking the money.”

The government alleged there were other payoffs but that they were delivered by Love to Crutchfield’s secretary. The secretary denied she got any money from Love to pass on to Crutchfield.

Love would have testified had Crutchfield gone to trial, but DiScenza conceded there might have been problems with his credibility. Before Love knew he was working for an FBI front company, he told the undercover agents that he had bribed other lawmakers. When he was arrested, DiScenza said Love told FBI agents that he was only bragging about his political influence and had not bribed others.

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