Thursday, May 26, 2005

Breaking! State Legislators Arrested

READ THE INDICTMENTS They are now online.

GOVERNOR BREDESEN PRESS CONFERENCE AT 12:30PM CST WREC AM600 is carrying it live. WREG or WMC have cut in live.

BRIBERY AND EXTORTION An "undercover comapany" allegedly made payments on the "resale of surplus computer equipment" bill mentioned below. Ford allegedly received $55,000! Cruthfield and Love allegedly received $12,000. Myers and Bowers allegedly received $11,500. Love(?) and Newton allegedly received $4000. Dixon and Myers allegedly received $9500. Ford charged with 3 counts of witness intimidation.


NEWS CONFERENCE AT 11AM From the US District Attorney's office in Memphis. All local stations will be covering. At least WMC, WREG and WPTY will be live at the USDA's office.

AT LEAST SEVEN HAVE BEEN ARRESTED NOW! See WREG update below. Memphis hard hit.

News is coming in on the local television that State Senators John Ford of Memphis and Ward Crutchfield of Chattanooga (both Democrats)have been arrested and taken away in cuffs. None of the Memphis news stations have anything on their websites as of 9:30AM. Check back throughout the day. Links are over on the left.

I've checked some Nashville television stations and found that the Nashville Scene's blog has confirmation and details. Press conference at 11AM. They link to a Nashville Channel 5 story here.

Not surprisingly, the blogosphere has the earliest reports. Nashville's Bill Hobbs has the notice. He adds that a State Representative (a Republican) may also have been arrested. Blogging Representative Stacy Campfield also has a bit. He mentions former Representative, and new State Senator Kathryn Bowers (Democrat) and Representative Chris Newton (Republican; Cleveland) as also possibly being arrested! An interesting Newton story from last week that might relate can be found here.
Rep. Chris Newton said two FBI field agents came unannounced to his Cleveland office on May 13 and questioned him about Sen. John Ford.

"They’re apparently looking at everything under the sun," Rep. Newton, RCleveland, said of the federal agents.

FBI agents also questioned Rep. Kathryn Bowers, D-Memphis, last week about legislation she and Sen. Ford have been involved with together, she said....

Rep. Newton said probably 75 percent of the agents’ questions during the hour-and-a-half interview were "directed towards those contracts (with Doral Dental), and what I knew about John Ford and Doral Dental and their parent company and those kinds of things."

They also asked Rep. Newton about legislation he had sponsored or co-sponsored with Ford, including a bill that would allow companies to buy and sell used electronic equipment from the state.

Rep. Newton said he let the bill stall in the House Calendar and Rules Committee.
What's fascinating to me: look at the time stamps on Campfield's blog posts: 7AM and 7:15AM! Assuming that's Nashville time, and not a time zone error on Blogspot's part, the story was brewing for two hours before it made it to air in Memphis! (I've had the television on since 7AM.) Interesting....

More as it develops.

UPDATE 10:15AM According to Nashville WKRN Newschannel 2 newsblogger Brittney's comments, it has to do with House bill HB0037 and Senate bill SB. Both involve:
Surplus Property - Broadens types of surplus computer and electronic equipment available to LEAs; requires all surplus computer and electronic equipment not disposed to LEAs to be disposed of by a qualified electronic recycling company by negotiated contract for sale to be disposed of out of state. - Amends TCA Title 12, Chapter 2.
What's really fascinating is that the House version of the legislation was abruptly withdrawn yesterday, the 25th, after nearly two months of inaction! Coincidence?

You can learn more on both at the Tennessee General Assembly website. Click the "Legislation" link on the left, then from the submenu click on the "Filed Bills Index." Enter the bill numbers above to be taken to the information page on each.

UPDATE 10:30AM Reports that more arrests are coming. Look at the bills above and you'll see Ulysses Jones (Democrat; Memphis) and several other legislators named as co-sponsors, assuming those bills are the ones involved.

Memphis television is breaking the story now. WMC has a story now. They include this:
"There is an indictment charging a number of people with a Hobbs Act violation," Pope said. The Hobbs Act covers extortion by public officials.
WREG has this. Real shocker is that more legislators and officials are being arrested:
News Channel 3 has also learned that three other people have been arrested - they are former lawmaker Roscoe Dixon, Barry Myers and Charles Love.

UPDATE 10:55AM WPTY adds former State Senator Roscoe Dixon has been arrested:
The FBI hauled several current and former Tennessee State lawmakers away in handcuffs this morning after their indictment by a Federal Grand Jury. Among those named in the indictments, handed up by a grand jury in Memphis, are State Senators John Ford and Kathryn Bowers, both Democrats from the Memphis area, and former State Senator Roscoe Dixon, who now serves as a top official in the administration of Shelby County Mayor A.C. Wharton. The three face serious federal charges, including several violation of the Hobbs Act, which include tampering with a witness, corruption of public officials, threats of violence, interference with commerce by threats of violence, and threats or bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds. Three others were also arrested, including Ward Crutchfield, who is a Tennessee State Senator from Chatanooga, Chris Newton, who is a member of the Tennessee House from Cleveland, TN, and Charles Love, who is connected to the State School Board out of Hamilton County, TN.

WMC now reports that Roscoe Dixon's replacement, Barry Myers, has been indicted.

UPDATE 11:15am The major charges have been listed at the top of this post. The company in the sting was Recycle Management, Inc. and was set up solely to undertake the sting.

According to the USDA's office, all will appear before the US Magistrate's Court today and will likely be able to bond out. Several reporters made the point that "normal" people would likely spend the holiday weekend (three days) in jail awaiting a court appearance on Tuesday, while these legislators will get preferential treatment.

I see now why the House bill on this matter was withdrawn today. Also, this is yet another black eye for Shelby County Mayor AC Wharton, as his new aide, Roscoe Dixon, is at least the fourth high-level administrator to run afoul of the law and/or ethics. (Tom Jones, Susan Adler Thorp and Bobby Lanier were the others.) I wonder if WMC will have the "official commentator" Susie Thorp run an editorial about ethics? Anyway, Wharton -- who has never been tainted by scandals personally and enjoys a very high reputation for personal intergrity -- will struggle with this. Will he force Dixon to move on, or will Dixon for him to tough it out? Here's hoping someone calls the Mayor's office to follow this.

Remember the "ethics reform" bills just passed by the Assembly and how they were watered down? Watch for this to be revisited with a vengeance! With any luck the legislators who want good government, regardless of party, will make a law with some teeth, including enforcement measures, an enforcing body and meaningful penalties.

UPDATE 11:30AM Correction: the dummy corporation was Ecycle Management, Inc. Sorry for the error!. A reporter at the press conference asked about a report that would-be State Senator Kathryn Bowers was taken to Vanderbilt Medical Center. I'll look into that.

The indictment indicates that the origin of the investigation was allegations by legislators themselves! That's startling. And a welcome bit of news.

The prosecuting attorney will be Tim Disenza. (I'm not sure of the spelling.) The US District Attorney's office for the Western Division as their website here. They have a webpage for press releases, but nothing is up yet about today's events.

UPDATE 11:35AM Governor Phil Bredesen and others will hold a press conference later this afternoon. I'll post the time when I learn it.

Ahahahahahahaha! John Ford threatened, according to the indictment, to shoot and kill anyone who squealed!! Now, NOW, will someone take this guy's raving lunacy seriously, instead of treating it indulgently?

UPDATE 11:40AMWelcome to everyone dropping in!

For those of you in the parts of Tennessee that aren't Memphis, almost-State Senator Kathryn Bowers is also the head of the Shelby County Democratic Party! She is legend for her aggressive, take no prisoners rhetorical and debating style. She and John Ford should make for very entertaining press conferences; Dixon to a lesser extent.

Ford and Bower's confrontational, in-your-face, don't-eff-with-me speaking style can be disconcerting to whites, but it's a very common means of verbal self-defense in the black community. Bloggers in Middle and East Tennessee, I'd love to hear from you about how this aspect of the scandal plays out in your neck of the woods.

HUGE ETHICAL AND MEDIA GAFFE!!!! Sure enough, Susan Adler Thorp is now on air at WMC, talking about giving a "black eye" and "damaging" politics! I can't believe it. The nerve! The shamelessness! The whitewash! I don't have enough exclamation marks to use for this! Not one word of her own ethical difficulties. Not. One. Word. I cannot believe it. I will be contacting WMC about this one.

UPDATE 11:55AM WPTY and Fox13 have both gone back to regular programming, it seems. WMC, as noted above, has Kim Clark, Joe Birch and SUSAN ADLER THORP (disgraced former Shelby County employee) doing followup discussion. Mostly it's background on the people arrested and general speculation.

WREG has anchor Jerry Tate discussing events with commentator Norm Brewer (who is droning on about "restoring confidence" in government) and reporter extraordinaire Mike Matthews.

Barry Myers, arrested in this sting, needs clarification. He is not currently an office holder, but rather is supposedly preparing a run for the House seat given up by Kathryn Bowers (now indicted). Myers is also a "protege" of Dixon (now indicted). You can read this recent Memphis Flyer article by Jackson Baker for more, and for a number of names to watch out for, in terms of where fallout happens. Sidney Chism, anyone?

UPDATE 12:20PMI'm taking some time, now that the early eruption is settling down, to scan around the Internet and the blogosphere to learn more.

Local television news stations haven't updated their first, early reports. Not WMC, not WREG, not WPTY, not FOX13. Shame on them all! Kudos to WMC and WREG for staying with the story and offering discussion and background, even if it was the usual tepid stuff.

Nothing on the Flyer website yet.

The Commercial Appeal has finally put up a story, as a banner link at the top of the main page. Unfortunately, it's behind their registration wall! The biggest political scandal since, well... since anyone can remember, and the CA is blocking potential readers! Take down the registration, dummies! Let people sample the paper. Maybe they'll like that they see? They ought to, as the story is a good summation of what's happened so far (with a Memphis-centric view, of course) with some new information:
Gov. Phil Bredesen met with Senate leaders after they got news of the arrests, several of which happened early Thursday in Nashville.

Sen. Joe Haynes said Bredesen told the leaders that no more lawmakers were to be charged in the case. The governor told the lawmakers that he had been briefed on the investigation early in the day by FBI and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agents.

"It's a sad day for the state of Tennessee. It's a sad day for the Legislature," said Senate Speaker Pro Tem Micheal Williams, R-Maynardville.

The Tennessee General Assembly had been trying to wrap up debate on the budget and adjourn the session by Friday....

Newton said he was asked about Ford's dealings with TennCare contractors, including a contract worth $429,000 with Doral Dental, and about legislation he had sponsored or co-sponsored with Ford, including one bill that would allow companies to buy and sell used electronic equipment from the state.

During the close of the session Wednesday, Newton asked to withdraw that bill from the House.

The bill would have required state government to route surplus computer and electronic equipment to local schools districts. It also required that any equipment the schools didn't need be disposed of by a qualified electronic recycling company.

Love, a registered lobbyist and principal in Charles Love & Associates in Chattanooga, said last week that he lobbied legislators on behalf of E-Cycle Management, even though records show he was not registered to work for that firm.

Sponsors of the legislation were Ford, Bowers, Newton, Crutchfield and six other lawmakers - Rep. Ulysses Jones, D-Memphis; Rep. Charles M. Sargent, R-Franklin; Rep. Larry Miller, D-Memphis; Rep. Paul Stanley, R-Germantown; Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville; and Sen. Jeff Miller, R-Cleveland.

Rep. Frank Buck, D-Dowelltown, who sponsored a raft of legislative bills dealing with lawmaker and lobbyist ethics reform this year, said he didn't have firsthand knowledge of the arrests but had suspected that more than just Ford might be involved in questionable deals.
This explains why the bill was withdrawn, at least partially.

One last note: There are reports that there is one last individual to be arrested. No word on who, as they are still looking for him/her.

UPDATE 12:40PM Governor Bredesen, Lt. Governor and Senate leader John Wilder, and Speaker of the House Jimmy Naifeh are lined up on a stage piously reassuring Tennesseans. Bredesen: who has appointees being investigated; Wilder: legend for cutting deals and horse-trading with Senate Committee chairmanships; Naifeh: whose wife is the state's number one lobbyist and who daughter is also a lobbyist. Talking about this scandal. The brazenness is amazing, isn't it?

UPDATE 12:45PM A couple of bits:

1) Apparently, this investigation began waaaay back 2003, as Operation Tennessee Waltz, but the specific focus on the Tennessee 7 (I'm trademarking that, by the way.) started in April 2004.

2) The law that all the legislators and elected officials are accused of breaking is the Hobbs Act, specifically this section.

3) More on the Susie Thorp scandal. She actually had the nerve to call this a "sad day" for Tennessee and to talk about all the "decent, honest people" in government. She said it all straight-faced. And no, she didn't mention her own ethically compromised past. It didn't take long for WMC to get into trouble with her, did it?

4) How much coverage will the national network news shows give to this story? Is anyone watching Fox or CNN? Are they covering this at all?

5) Governor Bredesen and a staffer made the point that since these are only indictments, the legislators involved will not be prevented from continuing their duties.

UPDATE 1PM The initial frenzy is finally calming down. I've been cruising around the web to see what's floating around.

From the Nashville Scene, which has taken potshots at Memphis before:
Channel 3 in Memphis is reporting more. Like Matt Pulle, I am shocked that so much of this is coming out of Memphis. Such a nice, well-run town.
Except, asshole, that they were all assembled in Nashville when this occurred. Clean your own swamp first, OK?

Watch for more of this lazy sliming of the City of Good Abode.

On the good side, they are reporting rumors that Ulysses Jones (Democrat; Memphis), Larry Miller (unknown) and other members of the Chattanooga delegation may be next.

Too many links to break down from Nashville Is Talking. Brittney is posting excerpts from the indictment, including the truly bizarre threats Ford is alleged to have made. Can you believe a man under investigation for his shady business dealings, which came to light due to his adulterous and polygamic marital situation, still taking bribes and making threats? If Ford lacks for ethics, he certainly doesn't lack for balls! Maybe he can spare some for his nephew, Harold, Jr.? Junior (0r F-Unit, as we call him here in Memphis. Hat tip to Chris for that one.)

Anyway, she also links to a main story from the Nashville Tennessean.

The Knoxville News-Sentinel's main political blogger is Michael Silence. He truly "gets" blogging and has an entertaining read. He's on vacation at the moment, but his guest bloggers are taking up the slack. Lots more linkiness on the Tennessee 7 and the Tennessee Waltz investigation there.

Memphis blogger AlphaPatriot has more, as well as a false rumor that just sounds plausible.

From someone in email, the link for the indictments is: here.

Of course, Tennessee's premier conservative political blogger, Bill Hobbs, is all over this. His main T7 post is here. The page is loading weirdly for me, so he might be having server issues. But he's packed with linkage.

Bill passes along this from the subscription-only Nashville Post:
Sources tell that FBI agents on the Hill say they are definitely not finished and that up to 11 lawmakers may eventually be arrested. Sources are telling that the development is likely connected to a piece of legislation Newton withdrew from consideration on Capitol Hill yesterday, and a potential contract related to its contents. The bill as proposed would have allowed the state to sell surplus electronic equipment to companies without competitive bidding. It would also create an alternative method for the disposal of surplus electronic equipment to divert it from landfills.The legislation was sponsored in the Senate by Ford, Bowers and , among others. notes a recent Chattanooga Times Free Press article that cited an internal memo from the office of the Tennessee Comptroller revealing that state officials were concerned about the bill. The Free Press said FBI agents had interviewed both Newton and Bowers last week in connection with several bills sponsored by Ford, including the bill regarding non-compete bids for used equipment.
That story is linked and partially quoted up at the top of this post.

Interestingly, Tennessee's number one "progressive" (He used to be a liberal.) blogger, South Knox Bubba hasn't posted a single word on this. Maybe he's just busy at work. That must be it....

Graphics! From GOP & the City comes a JPG of the actual passage from the indictment that quotes Ford's threat. He also has a hilarious remix of the 2x2 graphic of Ford, Bowers, Cruthfield and Newton. I think we'll be seeing more ofthat one.

Hmmmmm.... What's this? The Nashville Business Journal posted a story on this earlier, but (according to a poster at the Nashville City Paper, a crucial passage has been dropped.
Four legislators arrested J. Holly Dolloff Nashville Business Journal Federal Bureau of Investigation agents arrested four legislators this morning as part of a purported sting operation. Those arrested were state Senators Ward Crutchfield (D-Chattanooga) and John Ford (D-Memphis) and representatives Katherine Bowers (D-Memphis) and Chris Newton (D-Benton.) Capital Hill insiders say the arrests are related to a bill the four sponsored, changing the distribution of excess property. The legislation's language calls for all surplus computer equipment not distributed to public schools to be disposed of through "qualified electronic recycling companies." Those same insiders, who asked not to be quoted, say a lobbyist working with the U.S. Attorney in Memphis offered payoffs to legislators in return for their support of the bill. Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton also has been arrested, and a total of 12 arrest warrants have been filed. The U.S. attorney has scheduled a press conference for 11 a.m.
There have been scattered reports all morning that there are more arrests coming. Did someone spill the beans on Herenton before the Feds moved? Is he the currently sought-after eighth indictment. Are there, in fact, a total of twelve indictments?

And lastly, on the local tip, Memphis blogger The Flypaper Theory, discovers the website for E-cycle! He too also saw the talk that there are other indictments yet to come. The really hilarious part is that Pesky Fly's very next post is about Representative Harold Ford, Jr.'s announcement of his candidacy for the US Senate! Awwwww. poor Harold.

Well, I'm going to stop here for the time being. I'll be on blog break until the evening news, then I'll post followups and new information in a new post. If you have information to pass along, or a blog post of your own, or just witty comment, please email me (see link at the top left). Later, y'all!

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