Friday, March 30, 2007

Memphis is the “Most Corrupt City”? No Way.

Posted By on Fri, Mar 30, 2007 at 4:00 AM

The notion flogged by The Commercial Appeal that Memphis is the most corrupt urban city in America is sophomoric, self-serving, and unsupported by facts.

Ranking cities on sketchy and subjective data is a product of our Internet age, when everything from American Idol contestants to colleges gets a ranking. If the topic is corruption, then the bigger the stink the bigger the hero who rides into town and cleans it up. Gee, thanks, Superman.

The CA asked an interesting question and published a good series this week, but the conclusion is as phony as the designations of “cleanest city” and “quietest city” in Boss Crump’s day.

The indictment is based mainly on the Tennessee Waltz, Main Street Sweeper, and Tarnished Blue investigations, with a few miscellaneous crimes thrown in for good measure. Mercifully, the CA did not include its overblown Logan Young/Lynn Lang effort in the mix.

Let’s look at the scorecard in the Big Three investigations:

Tarnished Blue has not resulted in the indictment of any police director. There have been six of them in the 16 years of the Herenton administration. One of them told me the top brass was aware of the corruption in the property room and was prepared to bust it but was told to let it play out by the FBI and crime consultants, which made the final haul bigger in both dollars and indictments.

Tennessee Waltz has indicted John Ford, Roscoe Dixon, Kathryn Bowers, Michael Hooks Sr., Michael Hooks Jr., and Calvin Williams. Dixon was convicted at trial of taking bribes from E-Cycle Management in a sting operation. Williams was convicted of taking $5000 to influence the Shelby County Commission’s vote on a grant for a community center. Hooks Sr. pleaded guilty to taking money from E-Cycle. The others have yet to go to trial.

The Main Street Sweeper has swept up Edmund Ford and Rickey Peete. Both have pleaded innocent and have yet to be tried. The charge involves taking bribes for zoning billboards for a minor player in the business.

So far then, we have a bribe for a day-care center and bribes for a billboard, and bribes for dealings with a phony company that was not really doing public business. Four years after the onset of Tennessee Waltz, not one indictment for a road project, a public building, a sports facility, a major zoning case, an MLGW contract, or a big bond deal.

Members of the City Council and County Commission vote on hundreds of six-figure and seven-figure-and-up deals every year. Not one has been shown or even formally alleged to have been tainted by corruption.

Corruption and the rumor of corruption are two different things. If Michael Hooks Sr. or Edmund Ford or Rickey Peete or someone else eventually gives prosecutors a list of names and tainted votes and criminal payoffs and prosecutors produce indictments and convictions, then it will time to reevaluate whether Memphis is in the big leagues of corruption.

But it’s too early to make the judgment. A day-care center grant and a billboard case, in the scheme of things, are not big deals.

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