Wednesday, April 11, 2007

John Ford Trial: First Day of Testimony

Posted By on Wed, Apr 11, 2007 at 4:00 AM

FBI agent Brian Burns was on the witness stand most of the day Wednesday, explaining why the FBI had to spend a lot of money to wine and dine John Ford and other legislators in the style to which they were accustomed. It was a day of mixed results, with something for both sides in the Tennessee Waltz case.

Best Shot for Prosecutors: No contest, it was getting scores of exhibits marked in preparation for introducing them as evidence for the jury. Jurors will apparently see videotape and/or hear audio tapes of ten separate payoffs to Ford, totaling $55,000. Prosecutors spent all morning and part of the afternoon getting Burns to authenticate the exhibits, which have been the subject of months of wrangling with Ford and his attorneys over whether they should be admitted.

Best Shot for Defense: Attorney Michael Scholl kept Burns on the stand for nearly three hours of cross-examination. Some of it was tedious and appeared to be testing the patience of jurors, but Scholl got Burns to admit that star undercover witness Tim Willis was literally making his own movie on government time and the government’s dime. It came out that Willis twice used the FBI's fake E-Cycle office to shoot scenes of his independent movie Street Light. He told agents he was only following their instructions "to make the office look busy." Willis also smoked pot with a public official under investigation, which was a violation of his orders. Since he began working for the FBI in 2003, Willis has been paid over $160,000 plus expenses.

Best Line: Scholl threw assistant U.S. Attorney Tim DiScenza's line from the Roscoe Dixon trial right back at him when he asked Burns, "You can’t just go out trolling for public officials, can you?" The reference was to a subject of an investigation being "predicated," or predisposed by other criminal actions to commit a crime. Burns said the rules are strict for investigations of public corruption and approvals of higher-ups in Washington are essential. But Willis had only a verbal agreement with the FBI and did not sign a written one until he had already been working more than a year.

How Ford was Predicated: Burns said Ford was "absolutely not" a target of the investigation in early 2003 when it was centered on Juvenile Court. According to Burns, Ford became a target after he attended a dinner at Morton's restaurant in Nashville with FBI agents posing as E-Cycle executives. Burns testified that he personally had been involved in three investigations of Ford before that, but said nevertheless that Ford was not "predicated" at the same time as Roscoe Dixon and Kathryn Bowers.

Where's the Paperwork? Scholl got Burns to say several times that he did not bring the paperwork that spells out the government’s policies in public corruption cases and sting operations. The implication was, as Scholl said in his opening statement Tuesday, that the government targeted Ford from the start and "will do anything to get him in (the defendant’s) chair."

Good News for E-Cycle: One day after prosecutors and FBI agents told the jury that E-Cycle's business plan was completely unworkable and would not interfere with legitimate business, the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday ran a section-front story on the profitable business of computer recycling by Hewlett Packard and other companies.

Thrifty agents: Burns got a laugh when he said that while entertaining politicians undercover FBI agents went first class. But when they were in their everyday roles they stayed at budget motels like Econo Lodge.

What's Next? The next government witness is Joe Carroll, who played undercover E-Cycle president Joe Carson. The controversial Rolex watch that Ford got from developer Rusty Hyneman could also come up Thursday.

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