The Outlook for John Ford

When now ex-Senator John Ford announced last week that he was quitting his legislative career in order to clear his name, he faced a daunting task. His problems fall into three categories: immediate, less serious, and more serious. And, however these problems are resolved, they will have larger implications in the realms of law and politics.

One issue is that of venue: If Fords case goes to trial, it will be held in Memphis, because that is where the indictments were handed up.

Prosecutors and investigators have said that Memphis has control of the case because the investigation started here and the indictments came from here. Nashville was involved because on the day the arrests were made some of the accused, including Ford, were there at the time.

Trial venue was a big issue in the case of Harold Ford Sr., John Fords brother, who was charged with bank fraud in the early 90s. The government wanted to handle that case in Knoxville, but it wound up being tried twice in Memphis, resulting in a mistrial the first time because of juror misconduct and in Fords acquittal the second time by a jury brought in from the Jackson, Tennessee, area.

Since Ford and the other arrestees were caught in a sting, the question of entrapment arose in the minds of some of their colleagues — including Lt. Gov. John Wilder. And the FBI tapes seen and heard in court last week presented two government participants in the sting as emphatically denying Fords pointed questions about their role in a possible set-up. But U.S. attorney Bud Cummins of Little Rock, who is not involved in the Ford case, says the entrapment defense rarely gets an indictment thrown out. Any change in that state of affairs would be a precedent of some magnitude.

Entrapment is talked about a lot more than it is successfully used as a defense, notes Cummins, who was one of the prosecutors in the trial of former Shelby County medical examiner Dr. O.C. Smith. That prosecution ended in a mistrial earlier this year. In 20 years, I have seen it raised a couple of times but not successfully, said Cummins.

Fords other serious problems stem from the ongoing investigation of his role in two managed-care organizations, OmniCare and Doral Dental. Both organizations were involved in TennCare, the states now famously shaky health-care system.

Ford received more than $429,000 as a consultant to OmniCare but claims it was for work done either within the limits of the law or in other states.

A federal grand jury is investigating, but so far no indictments have been returned.

Meanwhile, two former OmniCare employees who turned whistle-blowers say they suffered reprisals, and among the OmniCare officials, past and present, who may become part of resultant legal proceedings are former OmniCare chief executive Osbie Howard, a longtime associate of Ford who resigned in April, and his replacement, Stephanie Dowell, who fired one of the ex-employees.

Both Howard and Dowell are former city of Memphis employees under Memphis mayor Willie Herenton.

OmniCares parent company, United American Healthcare Corporation, is a publicly owned company based in Detroit. If the parent company cooperates as expected with authorities investigating OmniCare, there will be pressure on Howard and Dowell to tell what they know, and that would certainly involve dealings with Ford.

As these latter issues pend resolution, they will undoubtedly impact the fragile state of a TennCare program that has been newly truncated and patched up — but just barely — in the legislative session just ended.

We will all keep an attentive eye on John Fords future circumstances for the light they will shed on our own.

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