VOL. 124 | NO. 214 | Friday, October 30, 2009
Herenton Grand Jury Hears From Four
By Andy Meek
A federal grand jury probe believed to be an investigation of the private business affairs of former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton heard from four witnesses Thursday.
The grand jury deliberations drew extra attention when it was revealed late Wednesday that former city attorney Elbert Jefferson – one of the witnesses who appeared before the panel – would be bringing with him a tape recording of Herenton. It was described in some media outlets as a “secret” recording of Herenton generated by an ethics investigation Jefferson conducted into the mayor.
But the recording was not a secret to Herenton. More than one person with knowledge of the matter told The Daily News Jefferson recorded the mayor during a formal interview as part of an ethics probe conducted by Jefferson. And Herenton consented to the conversation being recorded.
Jefferson appeared before the panel Thursday morning with his attorney Ted Hansom. Jefferson had no comment on his testimony as he left the federal building approximately two hours after he arrived.
Jefferson’s grand jury appearance was scheduled as Herenton revealed this week he received a letter from federal prosecutors earlier this month saying he is the target of the investigation. The so-called “target letter” specifies the investigation is into Herenton’s business affairs and money he made from an option to buy the land on which the Downtown Greyhound bus station now stands, according to a letter Herenton wrote U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder this week.
Memphis City Council attorney Allan Wade testified for about ten to 15 minutes on a February legal opinion he wrote at the request of council members about Herenton's option to buy the land the Downtown Greyhound bus terminal stands on.
A Justice Department attorney from Washington did some of the questioning. He was accompanied in the grand jury room by Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim DiScenza.
Also testifying Thursday was Florence Johnson, the Memphis attorney who reportedly arranged the transaction by which Herenton acquired the land option. The grand jury also heard from a man whose identity could not be learned by press time.
Herenton has said the investigation is politically motivated and he has denied any wrongdoing.
Hansom has said Jefferson was asked to testify about files he kept as city attorney that were part of his own investigation of Herenton’s business dealings.