John Ford seeks delay in prison sentence
By WOODY BAIRD
Associated Press Writer
MEMPHIS (AP) — Former state Sen. John Ford argued in federal court Wednesday that his 5 1/2-year prison sentence for bribery should be delayed because his children need him.
Ford said he is the sole supporter of his four minor children with ex-wife Tamara Mitchell-Ford because she is serving time in the county penal farm on a drunken-driving conviction.
Sending Ford to prison now would leave the children, ages 2 to 15, without either parent and could put them in foster care, defense lawyer Robert Brooks told Judge J. Daniel Breen at a status conference on Ford’s fate.
“That’s totally unnecessary,” Brooks said, adding that a delay in the prison sentence might amount to “a few months or less,” until the children’s mother finishes her sentence of just under a year.
Breen set another conference for today to hear from her attorney on how long she is expected to remain behind bars. She also faces another separate DUI charge.
Ford has also filed a petition to remain free while defending himself against federal corruption charges in Nashville that are unrelated to his bribery conviction in Memphis. A trial in Nashville is set for June.
Ford, 65, was convicted last year of taking $55,000 in payoffs from undercover FBI agents posing as dishonest businessmen seeking legislative favors.
He was scheduled to report to a Texas prison in December but was granted a delay the month before by Breen, who will decide if that postponement will continue.
“I really haven’t heard anything different from November,” Breen said after questioning Ford about his domestic situation.
Ford said he now has a part-time job at a funeral home run by his family. The children, he said, are still living in the large suburban residence they shared with his ex-wife but it is in foreclosure.
Ford said he has a two-bedroom apartment that is too small for the children and he is trying to find a new residence where they can live with their mother when she gets out of jail.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim DiScenza questioned Ford about how much time he spends with the children and if he is getting child-care help from Connie Matthews, a longtime companion with whom he also has children.
“She is staying at the house on occasion,” Ford said.
Asked if he sometimes stays at a different residence than the children, Ford replied “on occasion.”
Ford was the most prominent of five former state lawmakers convicted on bribery or extortion charges in an undercover FBI investigation code named Tennessee Waltz.
The investigation set off a statewide scandal and led to a special legislative session and to changes in Tennessee’s public ethics laws.
In Nashville, Ford is charged with concealing payments from state contractors totaling more than $800,000 while he was in the Senate.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lorraine Craig said further delay in sending Ford to prison is unwarranted.
“That’s not the way the system works,” Craig said. “You go to trial. You get sentenced. You go to jail.”
published in The Messenger 2.28.08