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VOL. 123 | NO. 100 | Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Jury Deliberates In Ford Case

By Bill Dries

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The jury in the corruption trial of former Memphis City Council member Edmund Ford Sr. deliberated Tuesday for about two hours before breaking for the night.

The panel of 12 got the case Tuesday afternoon, a week and a day after the trial opened in Memphis federal court before U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays. They return to work this morning.

Ford is accused of taking thousands of dollars in cash from former County Commission Joe Cooper, who was recording the conversations for the FBI and paying Ford with money provided by the FBI.

The government’s case is that the cash was in exchange for Ford’s vote and influence with other council members in the October 2006 approval of a billboard zoning case. Cooper was working at the time for billboard developer William H. Thomas Jr. who is not accused of any wrongdoing in the case.

“It’s about whether it was a fair vote,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Larry Laurenzi told the jury in summing up the case. “For those living near this billboard, do you think it was fair? It was set up and it was done.”

But defense attorney Michael Scholl argued that Cooper is the criminal in the case. “Mr. Cooper received a financial benefit from all of this,” Scholl said in his closing statement. “Where do you go with a guy whose credibility starts in the dirt and goes up?”

Scholl’s theory is that Ford was the victim of entrapment. He also accused FBI agents of manipulating recordings so the jury didn’t get the whole context of the recorded encounters between Ford and Cooper. Cooper raised so many different subjects and was pitching at least four financial deals in behalf of developers to Ford that Scholl contends there was never a moment when Ford was told he would get the money in exchange for his council vote. Cooper admitted that during his testimony. But Mays instructed the jury that there doesn’t have to be a spoken agreement for it to convict Ford of any or all of the six extortion and bribery counts.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Colthurst offered a contrasting view to Scholl’s. “This is a fairly simple exchange between men of long acquaintance,” he told the jury. “The answers are in the recordings. What it is about is when the system is infected with corruption – when the system is infested with vote buying. … You’ve seen Mr. Ford sell his vote for money.”

Scholl says FBI agents had no reason to start an investigation of Ford, an investigation he termed “lackadaisical.” “The dumbest thing Mr. Ford has done is not carry a tape recorder around with him,” Scholl told the jury. “We know Mr. Ford’s never taken a dime. … It does show they (FBI) would manipulate the conversation. A crime has not been committed here.”

Watch this website for the latest developments in the trial.

PROPERTY SALES 69 163 12,921
MORTGAGES 35 85 8,088
BUILDING PERMITS 109 531 30,465
BANKRUPTCIES 18 85 6,149