Skip to content

Government can use wiretaps in new Ford corruption case

Government can use wiretaps in new Ford corruption case
By TRAVIS LOLLER
Associated Press Writer
NASHVILLE (AP) — Wiretaps of former state Sen. John Ford’s phone calls can be used against him in a corruption case scheduled to go to trial in Nashville next month, a federal judge has ruled.
The wiretaps were authorized in a government sting operation called Tennessee Waltz in which FBI agents posing as corrupt businessmen bribed lawmakers in order to receive favorable legislation.
Ford was convicted in April of taking $55,000 in bribes and sentenced to 5 1/2 years in federal prison.
Ford’s attorney, Isaiah Gant, had argued that the secretly recorded conversations from the Waltz investigation should not be used to prosecute Ford in an unrelated case.
Ford is currently accused of taking $800,000 in consultant payments from private contractors with TennCare while using his position as a state senator to promote those contractors’ interests.
Judge Todd Campbell, in the hearing on the matter, summarized Ford’s position as accusing the government of using Tennessee Waltz as a “sneaky way” of spying on him to build a case against him in the TennCare case. TennCare is the state’s heath insurance program for the poor.
Campbell ruled Tuesday afternoon against suppressing the tapes.
Gant had argued, in part, that the government should have obtained a second wiretap order if it wanted to record conversations related to a second case against Ford.
In dismissing the claim, Campbell wrote that the two cases were similar enough in nature that no second order was necessary.
Both cases involve allegations that Ford “illegally used his elected position in order to obtain money or property for himself,” Campbell wrote.
Gant also had argued that the government listened in on conversations that had nothing to do with its investigation. He submitted several transcripts under seal that he said established a pattern of government interception of innocent conversations.
In his ruling, Campbell found that only three short recordings fit that description while some of the others related to “TennCare contracts, TennCare contractors, an FBI subpoena for tax returns, a pending Ethics committee investigation, other targets and whether the Defendant planned to resign as a legislator.”
Gant was in trial Wednesday morning and not immediately available for comment.
Although all the transcripts are under seal, during a hearing last month prosecutor David Rivera read an excerpt from one — a conversation between Ford and his brother, former Congressman Harold Ford Sr. He did not specify who was talking, but it appeared from the context that Harold Ford Sr. was warning his brother that he would face serious problems for something involving TennCare.
“I mean that TennCare thing got to be the most explosive thing in the world,” Rivera read. “I don’t give a ’blank’ what your lawyer’s telling you. … That’s criminal.”
A message left at Harold Ford Sr.’s home in Florida was not immediately returned.
Also on Tuesday, Memphis newspaper The Commercial Appeal filed a motion asking the court for public access to documents that have been filed under seal in the case. The newspaper asked for an expedited hearing, which is scheduled next week.
Published in The Messenger on 10.11.07

Leave a Comment