Senate committee expands ethics probe into Ford's consulting - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Senate committee expands ethics probe into Ford's consulting

In an "unprecedented" move, the Senate Ethics Committee is getting an attorney to launch a broad investigation into Sen. John Ford's business dealings and consulting relationships. Senators, both Democrats and Republicans, said Thursday that they want to get to the bottom of allegations linking Ford with high-dollar consulting partnerships involving TennCare and state agencies. The move comes a day after TennCare contractor Doral Dental handed over documents showing Ford was meeting with the company's executives late last year as a consultant for a company called Managed Care Services Group. Ford earned hundreds of thousands of dollars as a partner in MCSG, according to tax returns. Senate Republican Leader Ron Ramsey, also chairman of the ethics panel, said the deals "don't pass the smell test" and need to be investigated. On a 5-0 vote, the ethics committee decided to expand its inquiry and went along with Democratic Sen. Joe Haynes' motion to get state Attorney General Paul Summers involved. "I think this is unprecedented, that the senate Ethics Committee does go forward to seek outside counsel," Ramsey said. "Maybe we're in times now where do need that. But it is unprecedented." Ford didn't immediately return a call seeking comment Thursday. Ramsey said they will be focusing on potential ethics rule violations, such as one banning senators from taking pay for lobbying state agencies. Recent news reports have linked Ford to a lobbying effort by Johnson Controls to win contracts with state universities after Ford was paid by the company. "It has become quiet evident ... there may be some serious breaches of our code of ethics," Ramsey said. In the meantime, Ramsey said, the ethics panel is going to suspend its deliberations on a narrow charge that Ford failed to disclose that he earned consulting income on required statements of interest. "We've established the fact in the last hearing that consulting was left off the form - Senator Ford knows that, we know that. So now we need to determine what the consulting was before we can determine what sanctions need to be made," Ramsey said. Ramsey said the harshest punishment the committee could levy would be to kick Ford out of the Senate, as well as turning over any criminal activity they might find to the proper authorities. The Blountville Republican said the Ethics Committee has subpoena power and will use it in gathering documents related to Ford's business dealings. He said he expects Summers to provide an attorney familiar with such investigations. The investigation could take months, and there probably won't be a move in the meantime to strip Ford of his influential legislative posts, Ramsey said. He said it's important that they methodically collect all the facts before rushing to judgment. "I don't want to speculate on where we're going until we get the facts," Ramsey said. Haynes said Democrats are committed to pushing forward on the investigation even though Ford is a senior member of the caucus. "I have to commend Sen. Ford, he hasn't come up and attacked me yet. He's not sought me out, he's not sent for me to come to his office and he has not come to my office," Haynes said. "Obviously it is difficult. It is not a very pleasant thing because ... we are family and it hurts to have this kind of situation in your Senate body. It is not an easy situation."

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

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