Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Cleo Kirk: Father Figure or Partner in Crime?

Posted By on Tue, Jan 9, 2007 at 4:00 AM

The Shelby County Commission’s former chief administrator is on trial, but it was a former commissioner who took a beating as testimony began Tuesday.

Cleo Kirk, characterized by former administrator Calvin Williams as a father figure to him, was implicated by Williams in secretly taped conversations with FBI informant Tim Willis. One videotape seen by the jury showed Willis peeling off $1500 in cash to pay Williams for helping get a grant proposal through the commission in 2002.

The videotape and two other audiotapes made in April of 2003 feature obscenity-laced dialogue between Williams and Willis, former friends and, according to Williams, business partners as they discuss Kirk and former commissioner Michael Hooks.

Williams says Kirk, former chairman of the Budget Committee, was going to get either “a share” of the $1500 or the whole thing because Williams would make bigger money later on other commission resolutions he influenced.

“We got a father-son relationship,” Williams says.

If so, it was not one anyone would envy. In crude language, Williams goes on to insult Kirk’s integrity (“the only m------ f----- I ain’t gonna snitch on”), political skills (allegedly spending $4,000 of campaign contributions for two tickets for his daughters to the Mike Tyson-Lennox Lewis fight), and ability as a dentist (“he ain’t the kind of dentist you want to go to.”).

Sitting outside the courtroom because he is a potential witness, Kirk said Williams gave him no money and “I wouldn’t take any money.”

Jurors also heard Williams say that Hooks was having an affair with a member of the commission’s staff, whom he refers to as “bald-headed” in insulting language.

Williams says Kirk “will spook easily” because he thinks the FBI is investigating the commission. But he says “I’m gonna drop every bit of that off on you know who” after Willis pays him. On the witness stand, Willis said “you know who” meant Kirk.

Willis, the government’s undercover ace in the Tennessee Waltz investigation and the FBI sham company E-Cycle Management, testified for a little over an hour Tuesday. He said he approached Earlice Taylor, head of a Midtown community development nonprofit, about helping her write a grant proposal. The commission funded the proposal for $100,000 in late 2002. In early 2003, Willis began cooperating with the FBI. He tricked Williams into believing he had not yet been paid and caught him on tape.

Under cross-examination, Willis denied that he and Williams had a prior business partnership in which Williams was a 30-percent partner. They shared a downtown office, but Willis said he only subleased to Williams.

Willis was contradicted on one point by Taylor. He said they met, along with Williams, at the county commission’s back-chambers office in 2002. When Taylor took the stand, she said she never met with Willis and Williams and that all her dealings were with Willis. She said he did the grant-writing and public relations work he promised to do for the $5,000 she agreed to pay him in two installments.

“I never had a conversation with him (Williams),” she said.

On the tapes, Williams brags that he raised $95,000 for Kirk between 1998 and 2002, but Kirk let Harold Ford Sr. “milk” the account for his son’s benefit.

“I didn’t raise that money for no m------f----- Fords,” says Williams, a Republican.

He tells Willis “I am letting you off cheap ‘cause I was supposed to get more than that,” after Willis pays him $1,500 in Willis’s former apartment as jazz music plays in the background. They hug each other at the end of the meeting, and Willis says, “All right man, peace,” as Williams walks out the door.

In another conversation, Williams tells Willis “I ain’t no m-----f------ snitch” and Willis tells him “our conversation is strictly between us.” The two men did not look at each other when Willis came into the courtroom, but at one point Williams broke into a broad grin when Willis testified that their relationship was “more of an association” than a friendship.

In his opening statement to the jury, assistant U.S. Attorney Tim DiScenza said, “This trial will be about his (Williams) demand and his attempt to utilize his position to gain some money for himself.” He said it is “irrelevant” to the jury whether or not he was really paying Kirk. Kirk has not been indicted. — John Branston


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