City Reporter 

City Reporter

Heading To Court

Judge allows bond, denies another in driver's-license fraud case.

By Rebekah Gleaves

The latest twists in the headline-grabbing driver's-license fraud case here were the bond hearings on Friday and Monday for Sakher Hammad and Khaled Odtllah, respectively.

On Friday, Federal Court judge Bernice Donald released Hammad on $250,000 bond but postponed Odtllah's hearing until Monday and denied bond to a teary-eyed Odtllah, saying that he posed a substantial risk of flight.

The case drew national attention after co-defendant Katherine Smith, the driver's-license center employee accused of assisting five Middle-Eastern men in a fraud scheme, was found burned to death in her car the day before she was scheduled to testify on the matter.

Donald said Monday that she saw no evidence in the record linking Odtllah to the September 11th World Trade Center attacks.

Prior to the decision, Donald explained, "This defendant may have been the mastermind in a scheme to procure false identification." She went on to say that Odtllah did not have a "stable long-term residence" or "employment that would weigh him in a particular community." Donald also said that "the defendant does have a wife and child in Jerusalem," despite being in a relationship with a Shelby County resident. Donald then listed six dates when Odtllah failed to appear in court on traffic violations and cited a Utah felony charge from which the defendant fled to Florida and had to be extradited.

"The defendant's conduct in response to nominal traffic charges I believe to be the best indicator of his ability to respond to this charge," said Donald.

In the Friday hearing, FBI agent J. Suzanne Nash testified that Odtllah had been extradited from Florida in 1997 after fleeing a sodomy charge in Utah. Nash said Odtllah had been charged with "committing an act" on the 12-year-old sister of Odtllah's then-girlfriend. Nash said that after being extradited the charges against Odtllah were dropped.

Odtllah's girlfriend in Memphis, Sandra Dasilva, testified on his behalf, saying that he lived with her in Cordova and that the two had been together for one-and-a-half years. Dasilva admitted to keeping an envelope marked "Do Not Open" for Odtllah in a locked filing cabinet in her office. A search warrant revealed that the envelope contained four pieces of state-issued identification, but Dasilva testified that the I.D.s all contained Odtllah's correct name and information, though she said one had his birthday one day off.

Odtllah will remain in custody until he is tried on the matter. The other three defendants also remain in custody. On Friday, Donald agreed to try each of the five men charged separately and consecutively, with Odtllah's trial coming last. The first trial is scheduled to begin on May 20th.

U.S. Attorney Timothy DiScenza said Friday that each trial should last two days. "I also anticipate -- but I do not represent them, of course -- that they may not all go to trial," he said.

DiScenza would not say if he believed some of the defendants would accept plea agreements and also said he could not comment when asked if his office still considered any of the defendants linked to terrorism. He added that he believed the trials would be over before national attention is again focused on Memphis for the June 8th boxing match between Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis.


What Price Justice?

Memphis police negotiations reach an impasse.

By Janel Davis

Before the city of Memphis can welcome thousands of boxing fans to the "Rumble on the River" in June, it must first deal with the rumblings of the Memphis Police Association (MPA) and its wage requests.

The MPA's latest offer was met with a counteroffer from the city. Neither side agreed with the offers and no resolution was reached. Now it is up to the city council to decide which offer passes. After a seven-day cooling-off period, the plans will be presented to a three-person council committee, which will then make recommendations to the full council on a plan of action.

According to Samuel Williams, MPA president, the organization's last offer included a yearly $325 cash clothing allowance and a 3 percent wage increase to become effective July 1st of this year. The most important part of their offer was a $168.62 "bump," or increase in monthly pay, which would make city police salaries equal to that of their counterparts in Shelby County and deputy jailers.

"All we want is fairness and equality," says Williams. "Why not pay us for the work that we do? Why not pay us the same as our counterparts?"

Represented by attorney Robert Meyers, the city proposed a $325 yearly clothing allowance with the first year given as a voucher and the second year paid in cash. The plan also included a 3 percent wage increase to become effective January 1st of next year, with another 3 percent increase granted January 2004. An increase of unused sick days paid out to retiring employees was also increased from 65 to 70 as part of the plan. Both parties agreed on this item.

"We believe our offer is fair," says Meyers. "We have to balance all interests. Keep in mind that the state has not met their financial obligations, the county may have to raise property taxes, and the city is trying not to do that. Several people have lost jobs with the existing economy. In the big scheme of things, the city has done well by [the officers]."

Williams cites a March 20th Commercial Appeal article in which Mayor Willie Herenton said, "We have enough money in reserves to even make a few loans to our counterparts."

"If we have enough money to make loans, we should have enough money to pay our officers," says Williams.

The proposed negotiations would affect 1,200-1,500 patrolmen and sergeants that are represented by the MPA. Of those, 500-600 third-year or topped-out officers would be affected by the requested bump in pay. Memphis third-year officers currently receive $41,680 per year, while Shelby County deputies receive $43,704.

Although some officers have appeared on television news programs citing their intentions to protest by calling in sick or with "blue flu," neither Williams nor Meyers sees that as a major concern. In fact, as part of the 1974 contract, officers are under a no-strike commitment.

Williams is optimistic about the MPA's chances before the council. "If our request is granted, and then the county decides to increase their wages," he says, "then we'll be behind again, but at least we'll be equal for a day."

He expects a ruling within two weeks.


Sunny Day

Premier Player Awards honor the enduring legacy of Sam Phillips.

By Chris Davis

In the dark we hear the sounds of a radio changing stations followed by a Dewey Phillips imitator (minus the almost requisite "Dee-Gaw!") announcing "a new record being put out by Sam Phillips down at Sun Records." A raunchy saxophone begins to blow Johnny London's "Drivin' Slow," the first official Sun single, and the lights come up to reveal Memphis sax legend Ace Cannon honking his gray-haired heart out. Barbara Blue then takes the stage for a foundation-rattling performance of "Good Rockin' Tonight."

It's clear from the git-go that the Memphis chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences has pulled out all the stops to make the 2002 Premier Player Awards, honoring the 50th anniversary of Sun Records, an evening to be remembered.

Taking The Orpheum stage last Thursday, March 28th, to receive a wheelbarrow load of Grammy Hall of Fame certificates, Sun founder Sam Phillips assumed the role of rock-and-roll evangelist. He pounded the podium, raised his hands to heaven, and talked about growing up in the rural South, where, education and skin color aside, people were made equal by poverty and hard work. He spoke of music as a force that breaks down cultural barriers and brings us all together.

"If it wasn't for music," he asked, his voice booming to the farthest reaches of The Orpheum, "what kind of hell would be on this earth, for sure?" It was clearly Phillips' night, and once he got rolling it didn't seem like he was ever going to stop.

Ruby Wilson was on hand to graciously pick up her best female vocalist award, and Preston Shannon followed shortly as best male vocalist. Awards for band and rapper went to Saliva and Three 6 Mafia, respectively. But in the shadow of a glorious tribute to Sun, the awards themselves all but disappeared from view.

Cory Branan, winner of last year's newcomer award, induced chills with a whispery rendition of "I Walk the Line," and Wendy Moten thrilled with the Prisonaires' "Just Walkin' In the Rain." World-boogie prophet Jim Dickinson paid a funky homage to the recently departed Rufus Thomas with "Bear Cat." Alvin Youngblood Hart's scorching "Folsom Prison Blues" could only be topped by "Tear It Up," performed by Sun veterans fuzz-tone hero Paul Burlison, shouter Sonny Burgess, rockabilly pioneer Billy Lee Riley, and Elvis drummer D.J. Fontana.

The Sun-centric evening came to a close with the North Mississippi Allstars' free-for-all rendition of "Mystery Train" and a gathering of the night's "Sun All Stars" giving a rendition of the Jerry Lee Lewis classic "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" --minus the Killer himself, who was a no-show.

The 2002 Premier Player Award winners were: Female Vocalist -- Ruby Wilson; Male Vocalist -- Preston Shannon; Keys -- Marvell Thomas; Drummer -- Cody Dickinson; Bass -- Tim Goodwin; Brass -- Ben Cauley; Woodwind -- Herman Green; Harmonica -- Billy Gibson; Strings -- Susanna Gilmore; Guitar -- Steve Selvidge; Music Teacher -- Herman Green; Community Service -- Stax Music Academy; Producer -- Willie Mitchell; Engineer -- Jeff Powell; Songwriter -- Keith Sykes; Choir -- O'Landa Draper's Associates; Rapper -- Three 6 Mafia; Deejay/Turntable artist --Michael "Boogaloo" Boyer; Newcomer -- Barbara Blue; Outstanding Achievement -- Carlos Broady; Band -- Saliva.

Hall of Fame recipients (a new distinction for five-time category winners) were: Strings -- Peter Hyrka, Tommy Burroughs; Male Vocalist -- Jimmy Davis; Keys -- Tony Thomas; Bass -- Dave Smith; Audio Engineer -- John Hampton; Producer -- Jim Dickinson; Woodwinds -- Jim Spake; Brass -- Scott Thompson, Wayne Jackson; Drums -- Steve Potts.

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