Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Main Street Sweeper Nabs Lee, Ford, and Churchwell

Posted on Wed, Jul 11, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Former Memphis, Light, Gas, & Water president Joseph Lee, city councilman Edmund Ford, and Ford's landlord Dennis Churchwell were indicted today in Operation Main Street Sweeper.

Lee faces bribery charges for his role in preventing cut-offs on city councilman Edmund Ford's utility accounts in return for Ford’s influence on the council.

The indictment alleges that before Lee was appointed to head MLGW in 2004, Ford’s delinquent accounts were subject to cut-offs. But after Lee took the lead role at the utility, Ford’s power stayed on despite lack of full payment.

One Ford account opened in September 2004 had no payments made on it between its inception and November 30, 2006. By that time, the balance exceeded $10,000.

The indictment also brings new bribery charges against Ford for his role in non-payment of utility bills in return for supporting Lee. Ford was already facing bribery charges for accepting bribes from lobbyist Joe Cooper from a December 2006 indictment.

Finally, Churchwell is charged in the indictment for violating the federal perjury statute. The charges concern his testimony before a grand jury that was conducting an investigation of possible violations of federal anti-bribery provisions.

Churchwell allegedly gave false responses to questions regarding Ford’s rent. Investigators believe Churchwell had forgiven rent owned by Ford in return for Ford’s assistance in obtaining a special use permit from the city council.

Violations of the anti-bribery statutes by Lee and Ford carry a maximum prison term of 20 years. Perjury charges carry a maximum sentence of five years.

— Bianca Phillips

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