Thursday, April 12, 2007

Ford Trial, Day Four: Predicating John Ford, Rockin’ with E-Cycle

Posted By on Thu, Apr 12, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Prosecutors played two of their ten "payoff" videos for the jury in the John Ford trial on Thursday, showing that they intend to demolish Ford's explanation that the payments were legitimate consulting fees.

On the first payoff video, which was made in 2004 in the Memphis office of the phony E-Cycle Management company, undercover FBI agent L. C. McNeil counts out 100 $100 bills and slides them across a desk to Ford, who pockets them without bothering to put them in an envelope. In the second video, also shot in 2004 in the E-Cycle office, Ford takes $5,000 in $100 bills after going over proposed E-Cycle legislation line by line for approximately 30 minutes.

"You’ve earned yours," says McNeil, who testified all Thursday afternoon and will be back on the witness stand Friday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim DiScenza made sure the jury knew what they were looking at by asking McNeil to explain legislative terminology and occasionally interrupting to emphasize a point.

"Did this conform to the talking points you gave him on the day that you gave him the $10,000?" he asked McNeil about a fax transmission from Ford.

"Yes it did," said McNeil.

In the weeks between the first two payoffs, Ford and McNeil spoke on the phone several times to discuss the legislation, making sure that it would give E-Cycle preferential treatment over potential rivals as well as public school systems interested in getting used computers and electronic equipment.

"Did you ever ask Senator Ford to consult with you in any single matter?" DiScenza asked McNeil, who answered "No, I did not."

Ford is charged with taking $55,000 in bribes, and the government has indicated that it will show the jury tapes or play audiotapes of every dollar being exchanged.

In a discussion with attorneys out of the presence of the jury, U.S. District Judge Daniel Breen said it appeared to him that Ford was going to contend that the payments were consulting fees. Defense attorney Michael Scholl said that was correct, but he will also argue that Ford was the victim of entrapment. Breen said entrapment is a question for the jury to decide.

In testimony Thursday morning, former FBI agent Joe Carroll, who pretended to be E-Cycle’s president, said the government did not target Ford. He said he first met Ford at a dinner in Nashville arranged by former senator Kathryn Bowers, who is also under indictment in Tennessee Waltz.

The issue of "predication" or predisposition to commit a crime is crucial for prosecutors. In effect, they must argue that they caught John Ford without trying to catch him, even though he was widely considered one of the most powerful state lawmakers in Tennessee and had been under federal investigation at least three times since 1998, according to the earlier testimony of FBI agent Brian Burns.

Carroll testified that after meeting Ford at the dinner in Nashville, he had a second "happenstance" meeting with Ford and another suspect in Tennessee Waltz in downtown Memphis later in 2004. The conversation was recorded.

"I’ll handle this in the Senate, man," Ford says in reference to E-Cycle’s legislative needs. “You don’t got to worry about that.”

The day was spiked with memorable Ford quotes, most of which have previously been published, and even a few moments of humor when the prosecution played E-Cycle"s marketing video featuring the music of Stevie Wonder, Louis Armstrong and Weather Report in a mélange of schmaltz.

On one tape, Ford tells McNeil he can get him tickets for any sports or entertainment event in Memphis. "Yeah, I’m like Wal-Mart, I got every last thing you want."

On another, he says, "Put it this way. Last two years I ain't never got a bill to the floor that it ain’t passed."

He says of his former colleague Roscoe Dixon, "He wouldn't know how to do shit."

And he says of his political prowess, "I got a brother on city council and a brother on the county commission and I control the votes in both places."

The defense will get a chance to cross-examine McNeil when the prosecution gets through with him, which could be another couple of days at the rate things moved Thursday. Likely lines of questioning include McNeil’s lies about everything from the E-Cycle headquarters in Atlanta to supposedly making a phone call from Singapore when he was nowhere near there.

The husky, bald-headed African-American FBI agent said his role-playing was vital to the success of the sting operation. At times, however, he seemed to be enticing Ford with promises of great wishes beyond his wildest dreams, as, for example, when he said E-Cycle’s stock price would "guaranteed" multiply tenfold or even 100-fold once it went public.

"I ain't real broke and I ain't real rich," Ford says of himself on one tape. “That means I got to make some money."

Scholl is also likely to continue to zero in on how Ford was or was not predicated. But first he and his client are going to have endure hours and hours of incriminating videotapes that may obliterate all other arguments from both sides.

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