Former Sen. John Ford sentenced to 14 years
Posted: Tuesday, September 30, 2008 9:42 pm
By ROSE FRENCH
Associated Press Writer
NASHVILLE (AP) — Former Tennessee state Sen. John Ford was sentenced Monday to 14 years in prison on federal charges of wire fraud and failing to report more than $800,000 in payments from state contractors.
Ford, 66, of Memphis, who is already in federal prison on separate bribery convictions, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Todd J. Campbell in Nashville after being convicted in July of taking money from government contractors and lobbying for them while he served in the Tennessee Senate.
Jurors found Ford guilty of two charges of wire fraud and four charges of making false statements on official documents. The wire fraud charges each carried a maximum penalty of 20 years and the false statement charges five years each.
Ford is serving a 5 1/2-year federal sentence on the unrelated bribery conviction. He won’t begin the new sentence until finishing the bribery term, which began April 28.
With his legs shackled and wearing a green short-sleeved prison jumpsuit, Ford tearfully asked Campbell for leniency and said he never would have acted as he did if he knew it was illegal.
“I accept complete and full responsibility for my actions or inactions relative to this case,” Ford said. “I can’t tell you how difficult the last three years has been.”
Prosecutors had recommended to Campbell that Ford serve close to 20 years on all counts, but said after the court hearing they respected the judge’s decision.
“This type of corruption is very serious and harmful to the public,” Assistant U.S. Attorney David Rivera said. “We hope this goes a long way in restoring public confidence,” in elected officials.
Ford’s brother, Shelby County Commissioner Joe Ford, and sister Ophelia, a state senator elected to John Ford’s seat when he stepped down in 2005, told reporters after the sentencing they believed it didn’t fit the crime and that their brother would appeal it.
“Fourteen years seems harsh,” Joe Ford said. “Violent crimes don’t get that much.”
Several Ford family members tearfully testified on his behalf before Campbell handed down the sentence, including another sister, Joyce Ford Miller. She said her brother has four minor children in South Carolina — who are living with their mother’s sister because both John Ford and the children’s mother are incarcerated — and that they miss him desperately.
Ford’s ex-wife, Tamara Mitchell-Ford, has been in jail since November on drunken driving charges. John Ford’s attorneys have argued the couple’s four children needed him while their mother was in jail.
“They’ve always looked up to their father,” Joyce Ford Miller said. “He was the center of their life.”
Ford’s attorney, Isaiah “Skip” Gant, said his client should get much less than the maximum sentence because of nearly 30 years of service as a lawmaker, his various charitable acts and the negative impact Ford’s absence has on his children.
Campbell said in handing down the sentence: “This is a serious crime. I believe sentence should reflect the gain you got out of this.”
After a three-week trial in July, a jury concluded Ford accepted the payments from TennCare contractors Doral Dental Services of Wisconsin and OmniCare of Memphis while promoting their interests as a lawmaker. TennCare is the state’s expanded Medicaid program.
Ford maintained he was paid for doing consulting work outside of Tennessee and tried to show he traveled to other states as a consultant. The defense, however, acknowledged Ford did advocate in the Senate on behalf of minority-owned businesses, such as OmniCare, and for poor children needing dental work.
But in building their case, prosecutors called multiple witnesses to show Ford secretly went to bat time and again for the two companies in Tennessee.
One of the government’s star witnesses was Gov. Phil Bredesen, who testified that Ford asked him to help OmniCare get 20,000 additional enrollees. The governor told the jury had he known Ford was being paid by OmniCare’s parent company, he would have cut off the conversation and probably reported the lawmaker to authorities.
Ford left the Senate in 2005 shortly after his indictment on corruption charges in an FBI investigation called “Tennessee Waltz” that landed him in prison. Extortion and bribery charges were brought against five state lawmakers in all, including Ford.
In April 2007, a federal jury convicted Ford of taking $55,000 in bribes from undercover agents pretending to seek legislative favors for a computer recycling company called E-Cycle Management.
Ford began his Senate career in 1974. He is the uncle of former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., who lost a race for the U.S. Senate in 2006 and now appears periodically on cable television as a political commentator.