Senate ethics committee looking at complaint against Ford

The state Senate Ethics Committee is reviewing a complaint filed against Sen. John Ford to see if it has "probable cause" for a full probe into the Memphis Democrat's business ties. Nashville resident Barry Schmittou filed the first notarized complaint taken under oath against Ford, saying Monday that the senator violated rules by taking $237,000 from a TennCare subcontractor. Schmittou, who has filed a number of complaints against Ford in the last few years, said recent news reports linking Ford's income to TennCare prompted him to file the complaint. Ford has never disclosed such income on state financial disclosure forms. The 51-year-old TennCare recipient compared Ford taking money from the TennCare subcontractor to "stealing money from the people on TennCare who are dying." Ford has consistently declined to discuss his recent troubles, telling reporters Monday, "Let me tell you fellas one thing: no comment or anything like that. Period."

The chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee has named three senators to look over the complaint and see if an investigation is warranted. "I've turned it over to our legal counsel. Our legal counsel will proceed from here," and take it before the subcommittee said Senate Majority Leader Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville. "Hopefully in a few days, or a week or two, we will have the results of that to bring it before the full committee to see if we have probable cause here." Schmittou, a past mayoral candidate in Nashville, said he was told he will not have to find and present evidence, such as Ford's income tax filing showing the income. He said Ford is just the "tip of the iceberg" of ethical problems in the state Legislature. "I hope everyone in Tennessee who is aware of what's going on and cannot come in here will say 'hurrah' because I am here for everybody, not just me," he said. Ford was last in front of the ethics panel, which rarely meets, in 1991 while being investigated for allegedly shooting at a truck driver. The Senate decided not to penalize Ford on that charge and Ford was never convicted of a crime in the matter. State GOP Chairman Bob Davis has said he also will seek an ethics investigation into whether or not Ford can legally represent his district, citing Ford's testimony during a child-support dispute that he maintains two homes outside his district with two different families. Separately, the state TennCare Bureau is investigating whether Ford violated TennCare rules by receiving payments from a consultant doing business with a TennCare contractor. Schmittou said he also has filed a complaint with the Registry of Election Finance, questioning whether Ford used campaign funds to pay for a daughter's wedding and for other expenses.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)