Thursday, January 10, 2008

Michael Hooks Jr. Pleads Guilty in Federal Court

Posted By on Thu, Jan 10, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Former school board member Michael Hooks Jr. pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court to taking slightly less than $3,000 in illegal payments from Shelby County Juvenile Court.

Hooks, 32, who was once described as "the hip-hop" school board member in a Memphis Flyer story, entered a change of plea before U.S. District Judge Daniel Breen.

"We almost went to trial on this, but Michael wanted to get his life back on track and move on," said his attorney, Glen Reid Jr., in an interview with the Flyer. "He is a very smart guy with a lot of good education and a chance to become a prominent citizen again."

Reid said that, contrary to some news reports and a press release issued by the Department of Justice in Memphis, the case was not part of Tennessee Waltz.

"This had nothing to do with his service as a public official and nothing whatsoever to do with Tennessee Waltz," said Reid, a former federal prosecutor.

A press release issued by United States Attorney David Kustoff, however, stated that "Mr. Hooks was indicted in this matter on June 20, 2006, as part of Operation Tennessee Waltz."

Under sentencing guidelines, Hooks could get probation and no prison time or up to six months imprisonment. His sentencing date is April 9th.

"We're hopeful that Judge Breen will consider alternative sentencing," Reid said.

According to Reid, Hooks was caught up in a scheme concocted by his father, former Shelby County Commissioner Michael Hooks Sr., and former Juvenile Court Clerk and former commissioner Shep Wilbun. They were going to get Hooks Jr. a job at Juvenile Court, but he already had a job and, in essence, said "no thanks." So they cooked up another deal involving consultant Tim Willis, and Willis gave legitimate and illegitimate work to Hooks Jr.

"His daddy was trying to help him the old Memphis way and that got him in trouble," said Reid.

Prosecutor Tim DiScenza said in court that, for unspecified reasons, it was "politically impossible" to bring Hooks aboard in a full-time job at Juvenile Court.

Willis got $60,000 for consulting business which he distributed to Hooks Jr. and others. Reid said Hooks Jr. admitted getting one illegal payment of $1,500 and other cash payments of $200 or $300. Willis later became a key undercover informant in the Tennessee Waltz investigation, but the events involving Hooks Jr. took place approximately three years before that.

Michael Hooks Sr., pleaded guilty to Tennessee Waltz charges of taking $24,000 while in office and is serving a prison sentence.

Reid said Hooks Jr., made no agreement to cooperate in other investigations and "has no information about anybody else whatsoever."

Kustoff said in his press release, "The investigation and prosecution of public corruption in the Western District of Tennessee remains a top priority of the FBI and the United States Attorneys Office."


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