Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Testimony Begins in Edmund Ford Trial

Posted By on Tue, May 13, 2008 at 4:00 AM

It will be "good old Joe" against "Ed and Myrna" in the Edmund Ford trial in federal court in Memphis this week.

In opening statements Tuesday, attorneys for both sides described how they will present the case in which Ford is charged with using his influence to get billboards approved in exchange for cash.

The government's star witness will be Joe Cooper, an amiable long-time lobbyist, unsuccessful political candidate, and convicted felon on a charge more than 30 years ago. Assistant U.S. Attorney Larry Laurenzi said Ford, as a member of the Memphis City Council at the time, got four payments from Cooper, who began cooperating with the government after being caught up in a drug investigation.

"The proof is going to show that defendant Edmund Ford performed his duty as a public official in a corrupt environment," said Laurenzi.

Cooper may take the witness stand Tuesday afternoon.

Michael Scholl, attorney for Ford, called Cooper "an evil person, a criminal, a liar" who laundered money for drug dealers in his job as a car salesman at Bud Davis Cadillac. Scholl defended Ford's brother John Ford last year in his political corruption case. This time, however, Scholl plans to show the jury a Ford who is a hard-working husband and embalmer, struggling to establish his own mortuary in the footsteps of his famous brothers and father.

Scholl said he will present the jury with "a team called Ed and Myrna Ford," married to each other for 29 years. He said Myrna Ford, who will testify, often took Cooper's calls and regarded his persistence as "obnoxious."

Like his brother John, Edmund Ford will be confronted with secretly recorded tapes that show him taking payments from Cooper. Edmund Ford's former colleague, Rickey Peete, has pleaded guilty to similar federal charges involving payments from Cooper.

The key vote was taken by the City Council in October of 2006 on a project on Steve Road near the south leg of Interstate 240. The council overturned the negative recommendations of the Land Use Control Board and Office of Planning and Development.

Laurenzi said Ford also attempted to use his influence on former City Attorney Sara Hall to get a billboard ordinance changed and also took money to remove the chairman of the Board of Adjustment.

Agents from the FBI and Drug Enforcement Agency testified Tuesday that the taping of Ford by Cooper happened between August and November of 2006. Ford was arrested on November 30, 2006.

U.S. District Judge Samuel H. Mays is presiding over the case.

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