John Ford Guilty on Bribery Charge (originally posted 4-27-07

(originally posted 4-27-07)

John Ford became the latest casualty of the FBI's Tennessee Waltz sting Friday when a jury returned a guilty verdict for bribery, one of five counts the former state senator was charged with.

That was Count Two of the indictment against Ford. The jury could not agree on Count One, a charge of extortion, and presiding Judge Daniel Breen declared a mistrial on that count.

Three other counts, relating to charges of witness intimidation alleged against Ford, resulted in Not Guilty findings.

Sentencing of Ford was set for Tuesday, July 31, at 9 a.m. -- a point in time distant enough to allow for an appeal of the verdict by Ford, as well as possible negotiations between himself and the U,.S. Attorney's office that might involve an offer of cooperation in future prosecutions.

The jury's deadlock on the Count One extortion charge would seem to mean that defense attorney Mike Scholl gained some traction in his efforts to demonstrate undue inducements on Ford by FBI agents. The senator ultimately was persuaded to accept some $55,000 for legislative aid given the bogus E-Cycle computer firm.

There apparently was no such disagreement on Count Two, alleging bribery. That charge was backed up by countless FBI surveillance videos showing Ford, then an influential state senator, accepting sums of money in 2004 and 2005.

The three intimidation counts were always regarded as the weakest points of the indictment, and, though surveillance evidence was presented in court to substantiate that Ford had issued threats against agent "L.C. McNiel" and undercover informant Tim Willis, it was not corroborated in depth and was clearly subject to alternate interpretations.

How the verdict came

News of a pending verdict was circulated at about 3 p.m., Friday, the third full day of deliberations. The 11th-floor courtroom of Judge Breen was quickly filled up by members of the media, friends and family of ex-Senator Ford, and representatives of the U.S. Attorney's office and the F.B.I.

A message from the jury,shared with the prosecution and the defense by Judge Breen, quickly established that all counts had been resolved except for one. Sensing victory, chief prosecutor Tim DiScenza moved for acceptance of the available counts and for a declaration of mistrial on the unresolved one. Defense attorney Scholl asked for time to consult with his client.

In the end, DiScenza's preference would be honored by Judge Breen after the judge had called the jury in and heard from its foreman that no agreement was possible on Count One.

Two circumstances had prefigured the outcome. One was a question had come to Judge Breen late on the evening before asking in effect for a definition of a phrase in the indictment relating to official culpability.

The other indication that a verdict of some sort was imminent came when jurors opted not to go out for lunch on Friday but had food delivered, which they ate quickly before resuming afternoon deliberations.

Ford 'Disappointed'

Although the accusaed senator had enjoyed a leisurely lunch with members of his immediate and extended family at a downtown grill, his attitude was clearly one of somber apprehension, as was theirs. This was in stark contrast to an air of relaxation, even jauntiness, they had all exhibited during break periods on Wednesday and Thursday.

During that lunch, Ford took time out to insist that he had been the victim of entrapment and to express a wish that more time and attention had been devoted to that subject during the trial.

In a brief statement to members of the media after exiting the Federal Building, former Senator Ford, who remains free on bond, expressed disappointment with the verdict.

Although well-wishers for Ford and family members attended the trial throughout, a striking feature of the former senator's trial was that it attracted less out-of-town media contingents and fewer demonstrators than had a previous one for Ford's former state Senate colleague, Roscoe Dixon.

Dixon was convicted of bribery and extortion charges last year and is now serving a term in federal prison. Another local figure,former Shelby County Commissioner Michael Hooks Sr., pleaded guilty to similar charges and has yet to begin his term.

Tennessee Waltz indictees yet to be tried include former state Senator Kathryn Bowers and fortmer Memphis school board member Michael Hooks Jr.

--J,.B.,J.B.

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