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VOL. 123 | NO. 6 | Wednesday, January 9, 2008

New Insights Surface In Cooper Testimony

By Andy Meek

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Joe Cooper gave an insider's account of the private deals, expensive favors and back room meetings now apparently commonplace in Memphis politics.

What the former Shelby County commissioner, car salesman, political consultant and now twice-convicted felon also alleged in a sworn statement Dec. 20 is that real estate developer Rusty Hyneman lied about being involved in one of those favors in a recent lawsuit.

That was one of the obvious bombshells in Cooper's testimony and was reflected as such in recent media coverage. Less obvious was the story Cooper built about another figure: himself.

The truth will out

Cooper's statement at the December hearing - copies of which were made public Friday - was in connection with Hyneman's suit in Shelby County Chancery Court. In it, Hyneman claims he was unwittingly made a co-signer on a car lease for former Memphis City Councilman Edmund Ford and that his signature was forged on lease documents.

But Hyneman, Cooper insisted, knew about the arrangement from the beginning. Cooper, who also wore a wire for the FBI as part of a bribery and corruption case he's continuing to help the agency build against Ford, was a salesman at Bud Davis Cadillac in 2004 and arranged that lease for Ford.

About a week or so before the 62-year-old political operative sat down in December for his testimony in the civil case involving Hyneman, Cooper first met with Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas Colthurst and Larry Laurenzi, as well as FBI Special Agent Mark Post.

"They advised me to tell the truth about anything I could remember," Cooper said in his testimony.

Cooper, however, left out enough details in some places and provided enough damning information about himself in others that his testimony may not entirely be the slam-dunk bit of evidence it has been portrayed to be.

'The cat bird's seat'

Cooper's recollection of the Cadillac SRX leased to Ford is one example. Cooper said it was his idea to get Hyneman to co-sign the lease because of Ford's poor credit.

But Cooper also admits his intent to use that act as leverage to squeeze Ford for favorable treatment later.

"(Hyneman) got the past due notices" on Ford's car, Cooper recalled. "He had the secretary call me and bug the heck out of me and, see, I'm in the middle. I'm trying to keep everybody happy ...

"Here I am, I'm a consultant with all these people and I'm trying to keep everybody happy and sure don't want Edmund Ford to get mad at me and throw me out. When he sees me, he's going to be voting the other way on everything."

To say Cooper viewed himself as a freewheeling concierge with a limitless amount of influence would perhaps be an understatement. What he wanted, according to his testimony, was to line up so many IOUs and mutually beneficial relationships that Cooper would be in what he called "the cat bird's seat."

"Just imagine if you get up in the morning ... and you need something," he said. "(You) call Joe Cooper."

You don't say!

Elsewhere in his testimony, Cooper leaves out bits of information and even comes close to misrepresenting parts of his story that federal agents already are aware of. One example of that is in his account of selling a car from Bud Davis Cadillac to Korreco Green, who was sentenced to prison earlier this year.

"It never dawned on me from the get-go that, you know, that's where he got his money from," Cooper said. "It turns out that he was a drug dealer."

But Cooper knew enough - if not all - of Green's past soon enough. Green, for example, told investigators that when he was arrested on a first-degree murder charge not long after being introduced to Cooper, it was Cooper who signed his bond, according to a 2006 criminal complaint against Cooper.

That complaint was filed by Kevin Helms, a task force officer for the U.S. Department of Justice's Drug Enforcement Administration who's also a detective at the Shelby County Sheriff's Office.

"In recorded communications (with an informant), Cooper made statements indicating that he understood that he was dealing with drug traffickers," Helms writes in his complaint. A Cadillac seized from Green's home by police in 2006 also was registered in Cooper's wife's name.

Meanwhile, the Chancery Court case involving Hyneman's claim of forgery and Cooper's help with Ford's car lease - all of which led to Cooper's recent testimony - is still unfolding. Attorneys representing Bud Davis and GMAC Financial Services Corp. have filed a motion to compel Hyneman to give a deposition in the case.

PROPERTY SALES 28 290 16,197
MORTGAGES 33 165 10,087
BUILDING PERMITS 184 608 38,544
BANKRUPTCIES 33 125 7,597