On Thursday, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the former state senator's 2008 conviction, for which he was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Ford had already been convicted and sentenced to five and one-half years in prison in 2007 in Memphis on bribery charges in the Operation Tennessee Waltz sting.
The successful appeal means Ford, 68, could be a free man within two years. It also means that he was convicted for a relationship with a fake company, E-Cycle, but successfully appealed his conviction for his relationship with real companies United American Healthcare Corporation and Omnicare.
The appeals court said "the disclosures that Ford was supposed to make were owed to state entities — the Tennessee Senate and Tennessee Registry of Election Finance. Herein lies the distinction central to Ford's argument. While the facts that he failed to disclose concerned an entity inseperable from federal ties, the entitites to which he failed to disclose those facts were anything but federal. Ford's distinction has merit."
The appeals court did not address the basic question of whether Ford's consulting relationship with a company he could help as a senator committee chairman was right or wrong. It only focuses on disclosure.
"Although Omnicare had a contractual duty to not pay Tennessee officials and to prevent benefits from flowing to them, Ford was not bound by that duty. Therefore, Ford did not owe TennCare a contractual duty to report his financial interests with Omnicare. The only reporting duties owed by Ford in this case were owed to the senate and election registry."
In the Nashville trial, Ford was also convicted on so-called "honest services" counts of wire fraud. Prosecutors conceded that in light of a recent ruling those convictions should be vacated because "honest services" only applies to bribery and kickback schemes." Ford was convicted of failing to disclose interests.
Honest services means the public has a right to honest services of public officials. The term came up two years ago during the investigation of then-Memphis mayor Willie Herenton. That investigation was dropped.
Ford was arrested in Nashville in 2005 when Tennessee Waltz broke. He was the most well-known defendant in the investigation which was based on an FBI sham company called E-Cycle. After Ford was convicted in 2007, federal prosecutors in Nashville decided to go ahead with their case. They indicted Ford but not United Healthcare/Omnicare officials Ronald Dobbins and Osbie Howard. Federal prosecutors in Memphis did not comment on the Nashville case at the time.
John Ford is the third brother of the Ford family to score a win against the feds. Harold Ford was acquitted on federal corruption charges in 1993 and Edmund Ford Sr. was acquitted on bribery and extortion charges related to Operation Main Street Sweeper in 2008; after that prosecutors dropped an unrelated case against him.
Ford was paid $55,000 by an undercover FBI agent for helping the fake computer recycling company. As a consultant and state senator, he earned $470,000 a year in 2003 and 2004, according to records in the Nashville case.
On the theory that "consultant" was a legal shield, other Memphis state lawmakers including Roscoe Dixon listed that as their occupation. Dixon was also convicted in a Tennessee Waltz case in Memphis. With Ford's winning appeal, which leaves state lawmakers to police their own along with the assistance of the Registry of Election Finance (which can't send anyone to jail), legislator consultants could be back in business.