Read the rest of J.D. Reager's story on Live From Memphis.
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."
It was lobbyist and government witness Joe Cooper who was "on trial" Wednesday and not bribery defendant Edmund Ford. And by mid-afternoon he was reduced to tears - and the defense attorney had not even begun his cross-examination.
Cooper, the star witness against Ford, spent the entire day in the witness chair. His morning went well enough, with assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Colthurst taking him through a series of videotapes that Cooper secretly recorded in 2006. The tapes show Cooper making $8,900 in payments that prosecutors call bribes to Ford while Ford was a member of the Memphis City Council. Cooper was representing William Thomas, who wanted approval for a land project and a billboard on Steve Road at Interstate 240.
Cooper spoke in a loud and confident voice, sometimes stretching his answers so that Colthurst had to cut him off. The videotapes showed Cooper, wearing a tiny hidden camera disguised in a buttonhole in his shirt, carrying on folksy conversations with Ford at the former councilman's funeral home and in a car. The meetings began in late August of 2006 and ended in late November when Ford was arrested and Cooper was relocated to a motel in Jackson, Tennessee because he feared for his safety.
The afternoon, however, was a different story. When Colthurst asked Cooper to explain that the FBI gave him $10,000 for living expenses because he couldn't get a job, Cooper broke down crying after saying he and his wife were "about on the street" at one point. A recess was declared.
When the trial resumed, Colthurst quickly finished his questions and it was defense attorney Michael Scholl's turn. Scholl bored in on Cooper's 1977 federal conviction on bank loan charges and the fact the he served four months in prison as an indication that Cooper is unreliable and has incentive to hand Ford over to the government. Then Scholl turned to Cooper's guilty plea on money laundering charges in 2007. And for nearly two hours, Scholl confronted Cooper with all the details of his involvement with drug dealers. Several times, Cooper's recollection was shaky and he seemed to back away from one point in particular - that he thought he was leasing luxury cars to a young man who was an electrician and in the music business and did not suspect until months later that he was a drug dealer. Cooper faces a sentence of 30-37 months according to sentencing guidelines.
When Cooper said, "I am here to eliminate a cancer that was on the City Council," Scholl shot back, "You probably became the cancer of this City Council, didn't you?"
"It takes two to tango, sir," Cooper replied.
"You like to tango, don't you," said Scholl.
Whether the theatrics had any effect on the jury, of course, is not known. Ford and his wife Myrna are expected to take the stand later this week, and the government will shift attention away from Cooper and back to the videotapes that show Cooper carefully counting out stacks of $100 bills and handing them to Ford.
In opening statements Tuesday, attorneys for both sides described how they will present the case in which Ford is charged with using his influence to get billboards approved in exchange for cash.
The government's star witness will be Joe Cooper, an amiable long-time lobbyist, unsuccessful political candidate, and convicted felon on a charge more than 30 years ago. Assistant U.S. Attorney Larry Laurenzi said Ford, as a member of the Memphis City Council at the time, got four payments from Cooper, who began cooperating with the government after being caught up in a drug investigation.
"The proof is going to show that defendant Edmund Ford performed his duty as a public official in a corrupt environment," said Laurenzi.
Cooper may take the witness stand Tuesday afternoon.
Michael Scholl, attorney for Ford, called Cooper "an evil person, a criminal, a liar" who laundered money for drug dealers in his job as a car salesman at Bud Davis Cadillac. Scholl defended Ford's brother John Ford last year in his political corruption case. This time, however, Scholl plans to show the jury a Ford who is a hard-working husband and embalmer, struggling to establish his own mortuary in the footsteps of his famous brothers and father.
Scholl said he will present the jury with "a team called Ed and Myrna Ford," married to each other for 29 years. He said Myrna Ford, who will testify, often took Cooper's calls and regarded his persistence as "obnoxious."
Like his brother John, Edmund Ford will be confronted with secretly recorded tapes that show him taking payments from Cooper. Edmund Ford's former colleague, Rickey Peete, has pleaded guilty to similar federal charges involving payments from Cooper.
The key vote was taken by the City Council in October of 2006 on a project on Steve Road near the south leg of Interstate 240. The council overturned the negative recommendations of the Land Use Control Board and Office of Planning and Development.
Laurenzi said Ford also attempted to use his influence on former City Attorney Sara Hall to get a billboard ordinance changed and also took money to remove the chairman of the Board of Adjustment.
Agents from the FBI and Drug Enforcement Agency testified Tuesday that the taping of Ford by Cooper happened between August and November of 2006. Ford was arrested on November 30, 2006.
U.S. District Judge Samuel H. Mays is presiding over the case.
Chief Financial Officer Alan B. Graf, Jr., said in a press release: "Since we provided earnings guidance for the fourth quarter in March when the crude oil price was slightly above $100 per barrel, our estimated fuel costs for the quarter have increased more than 7 percent, or $100 million from our previous estimate, and the weak economy has restrained demand for U.S. domestic express package and LTL freight services.
"While we have dynamic fuel surcharges in place, they cannot keep pace in the short-term with rapidly rising fuel prices. This revised outlook assumes no additional increases to the current fuel price environment and no further weakening of the economy."
The museum opened on May 2, 2003.
Special exhibits currently at the museum include, "Otis Redding: From Macon to Memphis," featuring items from the private collection of Zelma Redding.
Also showing, in conjunction with Memphis In May's salute to Turkey, "Turkish Music Through Musicians A Photographic Essay," a collection of large-format color photos by Turkish photograher Atilla Durak. For more information, visit the Stax website.
Museum hours are Monday - Saturday 9 a.m.- 4 p.m. and Sundays 1-4 p.m.
One candidate to be the next Memphis City Schools superintendent was in college 14 years ago. Another has three grown children and says he could retire if he wanted to.
Both of them got their shot Monday at answering 22 questions posed by members of the school board and prepared by its search firm. One more finalist will meet the board Tuesday, and the remaining two will be in Memphis next Monday for interviews.
First up was Tiffany Anderson, 36, superintendent of a district in Virginia with 9,500 students. She breezed through the questions in a crisp 66 minutes, taking the allotted three minutes per question. Second up was Kriner Cash, chief of accountability in Miami-Dade County Florida, a district with more than 360,000 students. He emphasized his experience with diverse students and data-driven performance measures.
Memphis has 113,000 students.
The format chosen by the board and its consultants presents each candidate with the same 22 questions. Board member and candidates had not seen the questions until Monday. They included: What steps would you take in the first year? How would you work with the school board? How would you engage the community and partner with business? What about discipline? And closing the achievement gap?
Each candidate also got to ask the board one question. The audience of about 40 people was not allowed to ask questions.
It is not going to be an easy battle for anyone that we select," said board member Patrice Robinson.
-- John Branston
Here he is, shopping with his friend Peter Andre in London. What we wouldn't give to see these two wandering around Peabody Place. Non-PC snark and more pics here.
"The Phone," pits two contestants in a race against time to accomplish a mission together and win a cash prize. Each episode begins with two hidden cell phones ringing at opposite ends of a major city. Once answered, a mysterious guide gives contestants five seconds to decide whether they wish to play, at which point the competition begins.
"We're turning the reality competition format on its head and plunging the contestants into a real-life Bourne Identity -- not just in the tone and creative but also in terms of the visual style and pacing," said Tony Disanto, executive vp programming and series development at MTV.
Well, okay then. You've been warned.
Earles and Jensen's two-volume collection of prank calls, Just Farr a Laugh, is being re-released this month by venerable indie label Matador, providing a national platform for such memorable blasts of audio as the recurring Big Buford-loving character Bleachy, the frontman for a Jermaine Stewart cover band (priceless moniker: Bedroom ETA) looking for a gig on Beale Street, a warning call from RuPaul's personal assistant, and a man calling a local radio show to bemoan his fate of spending the Fourth of July alone. One of my favorites: the way Sun Studio employees refuse to take any guff from a belligerent Christopher Cross seeking an after-hours tour.
Earles will celebrate the Matador release of Just Farr a Laugh Saturday, May 10th, at Goner Records. Earles will talk about the record release and background on some of the calls, play a few selections, and give a slide-show presentation about the photo sessions documented in the albums liner notes. A Q&A session will follow. Festivities begin at 5:30 p.m. Admission is free.
-- Chris Herrington
Let mom stuff her face with spanakopita at the annual Memphis Greek Festival at the Annunciation Greek Church on Saturday. Guests can sample traditional foods, take native dancing lessons, and shop for Greek fest souvenirs from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Is mom a W.W. Herenton fan? Or did she vote for Carol Chumney in the last mayoral election? If she's got an opinion on Memphis politics, she might enjoy the Race and Politics Forum at the University of Memphis Law School on Saturday at 8:30 a.m. Randolph Meade Walker, Steve Mulroy, Calvin Anderson, and others will discuss "The Impact of Race on Political Leadership in Memphis."
Mom will get a laugh at the Memphis Improv All-Stars Cage Match, a talent show pitting the city's three comedy improv troupes -- FreakEngine, The Wise Guys, and Running Gag -- against one another. Hey, you and mom can even take bets on who's the funniest. The show starts at 8 p.m. Saturday night at TheatreWorks.
If it's fine diamonds and quality wine mom's after, make her night with a bid on such items at the annual "Art of Good Taste" Grand Auction at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art on Saturday night. The event begins at 5 p.m.
Celebrate with class on Mother's Day Sunday at the Mom and Pops Concert with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra at Temple Israel. Don't forget to pack a picnic dinner. Show begins at 6 p.m.
-- Bianca Phillips
The sale, which was announced in January and was supposed to close in April, was to have included the club's professional tennis tournaments -- the Regions Morgan Keegan Championship for men and the Cellular South Cup for women.
Club owner Mac Winker said he will continue running the club. "I'm back in the saddle," he said Friday, adding that there are no other prospective buyers at the table at this time. "Brian and I and our investors are very disappointed," said Carpenter. "We hope Mac does well and that the tournament stays in Memphis and does well."
Yes, friends, our resident Wizard of Oddities, Vance Lauderdale, has posted another entry in his blog at Memphis Magazine. And this one's a doozy.
Mann, who says he accepted the job last week and started yesterday, will oversee the opening of the foundation's Memphis Music Resource Center, which is housed within the foundation's South Main offices and is slated to open May 30th.
The resource center is meant to be an educational and support mechanism open to the entirety of the Memphis music community.
"What Memphis really lacks is a music-business infrastructure," Mann says, citing that the city's music scene has long been "DIY" (do it yourself) oriented and asserting that the resource center will be a way for the foundation to help local musicians help themselves.
"What we hope to create is a place where anyone can come in," Mann says.
The resource center will have 10 to 12 computers loaded with software to help bands work on many aspects of their career, from researching music-biz topics to designing show posters and CD covers. The center will also have an audio-visual room with a Pro Tools rig (purchased under the leadership of former commission and later foundation head Rey Flemings) that will be used to conduct recording workshops lead by local engineers.
"We're consultants, essentially, and we want to be able to assist [local musicians] in all areas of their work," Mann says.
Mann says he began phasing himself out of the Young Avenue Sound operation a few months ago (the studio is owned by Mann's father, Don Mann) and was looking for another avenue to work within the local music scene. When he saw the foundation job listing posted in March, "it spoke to me on a personal level," he says.
"I've been waiting for one of the [local music] organizations to do something like this that's tangible and real," Mann says. "I think it's been disappointing to the arts community that [these organizations] havenât been able to do something tangible."
Mann is an executive committee member of the Memphis-based chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and also serves on the Memphis and Shelby County Music Commission, the governmental organization that the privately funded Memphis Music Foundation spun off from. Mann's hire is the first of what could be a series of support-staff hires for the foundation, with a marketing position, a multimedia specialist, and a business coordinator potentially to follow.
Don't expect Mann's new gig to halt the momentum of his musical alter ego though. Mann reports that Lord T. and Eloise are putting the finishing touches on a sophomore album that features cameos from local rap stars such as Eightball, Al Kapone, and Nakia Shine. Mann hopes to have the album ready for release by mid-to-late June.
-- Chris Herrington
Herenton said numerous times in his 50-minute speech and 25 minutes of questions that "I am not a candidate for superintendent." But he also said the school system is "a man's job" and needs a tough leader in the mold of Joe Clark in the movie Lean On Me. He did not say whether he would accept an invitation to be that person, unlikely as that seems given the tepid response to his non-candidacy since his letter of non-resignation as mayor on March 19th.
"A month ago I was probably in a different mood about this," he admitted in response to a question from Council member Janis Fullilove.
The mayor's latest rendition of his puzzling personal career path is that he was merely responding to an invitation from City Council member Wanda Halbert to share his wisdom and experience. To that end, he presented what he called a "Blueprint for School Reform." He took no questions from the media following the presentation.
Herenton said he began to believe the school system was "getting itself in trouble" while Gerry House was superintendent 10 years ago but kept his thoughts to himself. He claimed the system has become fat with too many administrators, but school board member Dr. Jeff Warren, who was in the audience, said administration accounts for less than two percent of the system's $900 million budget.
Herenton called for a return to corporal punishment for students in grades K-8, removal of blight around school buildings, a decentralized management structure, and closing some schools that are below 60 percent capacity. He said the goal of sending every MCS student to college is "unrealistic" and "a bunch of nonsense," and it would be better to train many students in vocational skills. He called for two new technology middle schools, one downtown and one at the Mid-South Fairgrounds.
He said it will take three to five years to make substantial academic progress, but the system can be made more efficient "overnight" with the "right leadership."
He also said the time is right to change the school funding formula for city and county schools. He seemed to suggest that the city system has enjoyed a construction windfall of excess revenue -- a comment frequently made by county school board leaders and administrators.
He said his March letter of non-resignation and his crisis intervention moves were prompted by the school board's announcement that it would undertake a national search for a new superintendent and his fear that the search would select a short-term superintendent interested in building a resume. The selection of a superintendent is the most important decision a school board makes, he said.
City Councilman Harold Collins asked why he should not vote to cut the city's $93 million to schools in order to avoid a property tax increase of 58 cents, as Herenton has proposed.
"It is difficult to justify the funding when many of our people are suffering," Collins said. He added that this was especially true if the school administration is as inefficient and bloated as Herenton says it is. "Give the community a year to work through the funding dilemma," Herenton said.
School board members were meeting later Tuesday to hear the names of superintendent candidates recommended by their search consultants.