VOL. 123 | NO. 6 | Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Grand Jury Returns New Indictments Against Ford, Lee
By Andy Meek
A grand jury has returned new indictments against former Memphis City Councilman Edmund Ford and former Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division president Joseph Lee. Both men are the subject of pending federal cases involving charges of bribery and public corruption.
The new indictments handed down Monday represent an attempt by federal prosecutors to break apart an 11-count indictment filed in July against Lee and Ford. The reason that became necessary has to do with a wrinkle in the prosecutors’ original plan and was criticized last month by U.S. District Court Judge Samuel H. Mays.
In an interview with reporters outside the Downtown federal building at the time, Lee’s attorney, Robert Spence, said if prosecutors chose to seek new indictments to correct what Mays ruled is an improper combination of the charges, such a move would be unusual.
“This is mighty amazing,” Spence said when reached Tuesday afternoon following word of the new indictments. “I can’t speak directly to the indictment because I haven’t seen it yet, but I think this one is going to go down in the annals for a number of reasons.”
Some of the charges in the indictment involved Ford alone and some involved Ford and Lee together. Mays ruled last month that the cases against both men had been improperly joined and needed to be split apart. His ruling, in effect, set the stage for three criminal trials to spring from the original indictment.
In last month’s half-hour hearing, prosecutors raised the possibility in passing that they might seek new separate indictments against Ford and Lee. That appears to be what they’ve done this week.
This week’s indictment is the third against Ford since December 2006, two of which have included identical charges. First, the embattled councilman was charged with taking a bribe to support a billboard development when it came before the council.
Next he was charged in July – together with Lee – with supporting Lee’s nomination for the job of MLGW president in exchange for favors from Lee.
This week’s indictment splits off that last set of MLGW-related charges, so Ford is now under two indictments – one involving the billboard matter, the second with Lee as a co-defendant involving the MLGW matter.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Larry Laurenzi had been given a deadline of Thursday to file a motion for Mays to reconsider his December ruling that the charges against Ford and Lee should be split.