Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Ford Jurors See Tapes of Cooper's Payoffs

Posted By on Wed, May 14, 2008 at 4:00 AM

"Go get him. Be yourself. Stay relaxed. Business as usual."

With those words from his FBI handler, lobbyist Joe Cooper, with $2,000 in $100 bills in his back pocket, set off to make a bribery payment to City Councilman Edmund Ford.

Jurors in Ford's bribery trial in federal court watched tapes Wednesday of payments Cooper made to Ford in 2006 to gain support for a billboard zoning case. Cooper, who was working undercover for the FBI at the time, was on the witness stand all morning. He spoke loudly in his familiar drawl and appeared confident as assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Colthurst questioned him. On the tapes, Cooper seems less confident but handles himself without incident in meetings at Ford's funeral home and in his office at City Hall. During one of the payments, he apparently accidentally leaves $100 of an intended $2,000 payoff in his pocket. He later returns it to the FBI.

"You work your magic and make sure it happens and I don't care how you do it," Cooper tells Ford as they discuss an upcoming vote on the billboards sought by Cooper's client William Thomas. The City Council approved the zoning over the objections of the planning office and Land Use Control Board.

"You'll have the votes," says Ford.

Jurors have seen tapes of two payments so far. The first payment is more ambiguous because it is stapled inside some car note documents and cannot be seen in the tape. Ford puts the documents in his coat pocket during the meeting in which he and Cooper discuss a car loan on which he and cosigner Rusty Hyneman have fallen behind.

Under questioning from Colthurst, Cooper explained his methodology.

"You build a relationship," he said. "A person calls you up and needs a favor. You do a favor. It's never 'this is a bribe,' tit for tat. He needs something, I need something, and it's handled."

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