"A Bridge Too Far": What We Said at the Time About the Lee, Ford Indictments 

Let's be honest: We all take a certain satisfaction in being able to say, 'Told you so!' This is especially true when an unexpected outcome is not only one you have expected but one that conforms to the outlines of some discernible principle. The Flyer was immediately dubious about the Justice Department's indictment in July 2007 of Joseph Lee and Edmund Ford on bribery and extortion charges and said so editorially in our issue of July 19 last year.

Here is what we said:

A Bridge Too Far

Anybody who expresses skepticism about the prospects of the U.S. Attorney's Office, in tandem with the FBI, for closing out a prosecution successfully should probably submit to the proverbial head examination. After all, in the 11 Tennessee Waltz-related cases tried or otherwise resolved so far, federal prosecutors and the men and women of the bureau have proved to be literally invincible -- a perfect record.

In the last week alone, guilty pleas were wrung from two lions of the state legislature: former state senator Kathryn Bowers of Memphis, who had resigned after being indicted, and state senator Ward Crutchfield of Chattanooga, who still serves. It's clear though that he, like Bowers, who is due for sentencing this fall, will be among the missing when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.

But we are reserving judgment about both the validity and the outcome of new prosecutions announced last week by the two federal offices. These indictments -- of former MLGW head Joseph Lee, city councilman Edmund Ford, and Ford's landlord Dennis Churchwell -- pose some troubling questions. Not that we countenance the offenses these three men are accused of -- namely, engaging in improper trade-offs of favors to secure private goals from city government. Basically, the entire nexus of the case lies in the incontrovertible fact of Ford's being a world-class deadbeat in relation to the whopping bills he owed to MLGW in utility fees and to Churchwell in rent for his funeral home.

The government charges that Ford was given a pass by Lee in return for the councilman's favorable attitude on matters, some personal and financial, of importance to the utility president. Churchwell and Ford are accused of a compact in which the councilman voted Churchwell's way on zoning issues in which the latter had a vested interest, in return for inhabiting his professional quarters rent-free.

Sleaz-eee! This is big-time corruption, and it should be punished. We shed no tears for Lee, who was sacked from his job when these and other matters became public, nor for Ford, who already carries a bribery indictment and is clearly a scofflaw of unmatchable arrogance, nor for the self-serving Churchwell, for whom the word "lout" may well have been invented.

The question is: How much of this unsavory one-hand-washes-the-other mess actually rises to the level of crime? It is not by way of excusing the behavior to observe that these acts are consistent with and bear the same shape, odor, and texture of the way politics, government, and private interests have always interacted. If this case succeeds, are we to call for the prosecution of a public servant who sponsors or votes for significant legislation on behalf of a major campaign contributor? Does anybody doubt that causal connections to one degree or another exist in such instances? And how does one extricate from all these itemized quid pro quos simple facts of friendship or convenience?

The burden of proof is, as always, on the government, but in this case we trust it can also demonstrate to a jury that it is not expanding its immense power into areas of conduct that, however questionable, have rarely if ever been regarded as criminal.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

Blogs

Tiger Blue

Tigers 62, UAB 55

News Blog

UTHSC Awarded Grant to Study Tobacco Use in Military

News Blog

Here Comes the 'Ikea Effect'

Politics Beat Blog

Dems' State Senate Leader Foresees Clashes with Haslam

Politics Beat Blog

Medical Marijuana Coming to Tennessee?

News Blog

MadAir Event on Saturday

Music Blog

River Records' Jerry Gibson Killed in Store

Beyond the Arc

Grizzlies 88, Trail Blazers 86: Haiku Game Notes

ADVERTISEMENT

More by Flyer Staff

Readers also liked…

  • Election 2015: The Mike Williams Factor

    Some think three’s already a crowd in the mayor’s race, but a fourth candidate insists there’s room for more.
    • Sep 3, 2015
  • Filling the Space

    For all the in-fighting, we’re all looking for the same thing, and sometimes we can realize it.
    • Jul 14, 2016
  • Wellspring Politics in Memphis

    With a crucial deadline approaching next week, the local “Protect the Aquifier” movement picks up steam.
    • Nov 24, 2016
ADVERTISEMENT
© 1996-2016

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation