Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Opening Statements Complete in Ford Trial

Posted By on Tue, Apr 10, 2007 at 4:00 AM

After nearly two days of jury selection, the bribery and extortion trial of former senator John Ford got off to a low-key start Tuesday with opening statements from both sides.

"The U.S. government was going to make sure that John Ford was sitting in that chair no matter what," Ford's attorney Michael Scholl told the jury of eight women and four men.

Scholl said the government bought a "million-dollar yacht" and first-class plane tickets to Miami to have undercover FBI agents entertain Ford and others under the guise of interesting them in the movie and music business and the American Black Film Festival. Later, FBI undercover agent L. C. McNeil (not his real name) told Ford about E-Cycle Management, the bogus computer recycling company.

"Every time he’s talking to John Ford it’s a lie," said Scholl.

Ford's defense will be that he was a part-time legislator and full-time consultant and insurance executive who only took legitimate payments and fees. Scholl also indicated that he will attack government witness Tim Willis, an ex-convict paid more than $160,000. Willis has testified previously in the trials of Roscoe Dixon and Calvin Williams, both of whom were convicted.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim DiScenza said Ford saw E-Cycle as a "great opportunity to sell his office." Jurors, DiScenza said, also have a great opportunity "to witness the crime" on videotape. The government will present its first witness Wednesday morning.

The opening statements, each about 15 minutes, came at the end of a long dull day of selecting the alternate jurors. Only a handful of spectators, most of them members of Ford"s family, were in the courtroom along with a dozen or so reporters.

The trial is expected to last two or three weeks.

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