Thursday, February 14, 2008

No Valentine for Kathryn Bowers

Posted By on Thu, Feb 14, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Kathryn Bowers, a diminutive political "heavy hitter" who defied Tennessee Waltz prosecutors for more than two years before pleading guilty to bribery, was sentenced Thursday to 16 months in prison.

U.S. District Judge Daniel Breen said "the very serious and very damaging nature of the offenses" weighed on his decision.

"It provides the wrong message for other individuals, particularly young people," he said.

Bowers spoke for about a minute on her own behalf and said "I ask forgiveness for my bad decision."

Bowers, 64, was indicted on May 26, 2005, along with state lawmakers John Ford, Roscoe Dixon, Ward Crutchfield, Chris Newton and others. She pleaded guilty on July 16, 2007 to one count of bribery.

Prior to that, Bowers maintained her innocence, organized supporters, and continued to serve in the Senate for a year after her indictment. But she faced an uphill battle after Dixon went to trial in 2006 and was convicted and sentenced to 63 months in prison.

Her name and even her recorded voice were so prominent on audio tapes played for the jury and in courtroom testimony that it almost seemed at times as if she was on trial along with Dixon.

The government's star witness, former Dixon aide Barry Myers, was secretly taped saying he had made payoffs to Dixon, Bowers, and others for years. On one tape, Myers told the undercover FBI agent "you can, shit, can just put money in Kathryn's hands, 'cause I think she's, she's real, she's getting comfortable with you."

But Bowers was apparently more careful than Dixon about taking money. An undercover FBI agent would give money to confidential informant Tim Willis who would give it to Myers who in turn gave it to Bowers. It's unclear if FBI agents ever caught her taking cash on videotape, as they did Dixon and Ford.

On another tape, Myers tells the agent, "The big juice is Lois DeBerry, John Ford, Roscoe, and Kathryn Bowers. That's the, them you heavy hitters right there."

The legislative heavy hitter was a short, feisty red-haired woman who was praised by character witnesses for her work on family law, literacy, and inner-city youth. She declined to resign her seat while under indictment, but in 2006 announced that she would not seek reelection because of what she called health issues. She pleaded guilty after another heavy hitter with deeper pockets, John Ford, was convicted at trial. She was given credit for acceptance of responsibility by the government.

Bowers graduated from Hamilton High School in Memphis and studied journalism for two years at the University of Memphis. She worked her way to prominence in politics in Memphis and Nashville, where she "isted her occupation as "contractor consultant” in the Tennessee Blue Book and such honors as former chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party Executive Committee. She served five terms as a state representative and was maneuvering to increase her political power and advance her career in the Senate at the same time the FBI was preparing to spring the trap in Tennessee Waltz. She was sworn in as a state senator on May 16, 2005, just 10 days before she was indicted.

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