Memphis state senator had been under scrutiny on several fronts - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis state senator had been under scrutiny on several fronts

State Sen. John Ford, a member of a legendary Memphis political family, was busy fighting off several other ethical investigations when he was arrested Thursday and charged with accepting bribes and threatening witnesses. Following a two-year undercover sting operation, Ford and others were charged with taking bribes to influence legislation concerning a bogus company set up by the FBI. "You are talking to the guy that makes the deals," Ford told the undercover agents, according to the indictment. Ford, who has denied the charges in statements to colleagues, is also accused of threatening to kill undercover agents if they double-crossed him. Wearing a light gray suit, Ford was shackled at the hands and feet as he was led away after his initial court appearance Thursday in Memphis. He was expected to spend the night in jail awaiting a detention hearing Friday. The latest charges are the most serious of Ford's career, but he has been shadowed by scandal for more than 30 years in the state Senate. This year, the 62-year-old lawmaker has been under scrutiny from the Senate Ethics Committee, the state Registry of Election Finance and federal grand juries in Memphis and Nashville. Much of his trouble started during a child-support hearing earlier this year when Ford testified he had two households - one with his ex-wife and another with a longtime girlfriend - but neither home appeared to be in his senate district. Ford's tax returns were released at the hearing, and it appeared he had never disclosed his work as a consultant for a company with ties to TennCare, the state's Medicaid program for the poor. Ford was paid $429,000 by TennCare contractor Doral Dental, a relationship now under investigation by state and federal authorities. Two Doral officials appeared with their lawyers Wednesday before a federal grand jury in Nashville. The officials declined to discuss the meeting, but a company statement issued later said the company was cooperating with government officials. The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance earlier this month fined Ford $10,000 for spending $15,000 of campaign money on his daughter's wedding. Ford said he thought the spending was legal because other legislators used campaign money similarly. Ford began his public career in the 1970s when he, his brother Harold and other family members began building a powerful political organization in Memphis. Harold Ford beat a white incumbent in 1974 to become Tennessee's first black congressman. That same election sent John Ford to the state Senate and brother Emmett Ford to the Tennessee House. Harold Ford kept his congressional seat for 22 years. When he retired in 1996, he turned the seat over to his son, Harold Ford Jr., who on Wednesday announced he had officially launched his campaign for the U.S. Senate in 2006. But the controversies that have dogged John Ford have done little to hurt him among the voters in his inner-city Memphis district. (Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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