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VOL. 123 | NO. 98 | Monday, May 19, 2008

Ford Takes Stand at Corruption Trial

By Bill Dries

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Former Memphis City Council member Edmund Ford Sr. took the witness stand late this morning at his federal corruption trial.

Ford, who was a volatile political presence at times during his two terms on the council, was calm throughout the hour-long direct examination by attorney Michael Scholl.

Ford began by denying repeatedly that he took money from former Shelby County Board of Commissioners member Joe Cooper for Ford’s vote and influence on a billboard zoning matter.

“I’m a hard working person. I eat one meal a day,” Ford said. “No, I don’t believe in that. I believe in what’s right.”

Cooper, who is the government’s star witness, approached Ford on behalf of developer William H. Thomas Jr. but was also cooperating with the FBI and recording his conversations with Ford. He also gave Ford several thousand dollars in cash that was supplied by the FBI.

“Did you take $3,000 for your vote?” Scholl asked Ford of the first recorded meeting in August 2006.

“No, because the $3,000 came from Rusty Hyneman,” Ford replied, referring to another developer. Hyneman is listed as the cosigner of Ford’s car lease.

Ford told Scholl that Hyneman’s name was not on the lease when he originally signed it, and Hyneman has filed a civil suit in Shelby County Chancery Court claiming his name was forged on the lease.

The car lease paperwork has been a major point of contention in the trial. Ford’s wife, Myrna, testified that she and her husband were surprised when Cooper called in 2005 to alert them of an upcoming Commercial Appeal story that showed Hyneman was the cosigner.

Myrna Ford also testified that a year later she attempted to contact Hyneman to pay back the $3,000 Cooper gave her husband in the name of the developer.

In the recorded conversations with Cooper, Edmund Ford testified he wasn’t really listening to what Cooper was saying at all times.

“He just ran off at the mouth. … He talked about everything,” Ford said.

Ford had a much tougher time during the cross-examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Larry Laurenzi. Laurenzi replayed the recordings after Ford refused at times to answer Laurenzi’s questions about what was being discussed and about $3,000 in cash that was on the table between the Ford and Cooper during the conversation.

At one point, Ford insisted Laurenzi wasn’t asking the question the right way.

“The money’s on the table?” Laurenzi asked.

“Yes, it was on the table,” Ford replied. “But we’re talking about two different things.”

“But the money was on the table,” Laurenzi repeated.

“Yes, it was,” Ford said.

Ford testified after his wife completed her testimony. Myrna’s testimony began the defense’s portion of the case Friday.

PROPERTY SALES 39 202 12,960
MORTGAGES 25 110 8,113
BUILDING PERMITS 114 645 30,579
BANKRUPTCIES 37 122 6,186