Federal investigators announce bribery probe - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Federal investigators announce bribery probe

It was a historic day for the Mid-South. Four state lawmakers, a former lawmaker and two others arrested in a corruption scandal. State Senator John Ford was indicted on five counts, State Senator Kathryn Bowers was indicted six counts, Former Senator Roscoe Dixon faces five counts, Senator Ward Crutchfield of Chattanooga was charged with two counts, Representative Chris Newton faces two counts, Barry Myers of Memphis faces eleven counts and Charles Love of east Tennessee was indicted on four counts.

Senator John Ford will remain behind bars, at least until a detention hearing Friday morning. Two other defendants, former senator Roscoe Dixon and Memphian Barry Myers, were released without having to pay a dime, pending their next court appearances. Senator John Ford sat stoically next to Dixon and Myers. All three men arrived in court wearing handcuffs and were allowed to speak briefly with legal counsel. Then, it was time to listen to the litany of charges against them. Those include extortion, receiving money for favors--and for Ford--intimidating and threatening an undercover agent. Because of more serious charges, Ford will remain in federal custody for the time being. Dixon told us he had nothing to hide, but admitted to being very scared when U.S. Marshals came calling early Friday morning. His parting words were, "Be careful with who you deal with." Attorney and Shelby County Commissioner Walter Bailey is representing Mr. Dixon. Alleged co-conspirator Barry Myers has yet to name legal counsel. Senator Ford had initial representation Thursday, but no permanent attorney as of yet. And get this, because of his current financial conditions, Ford may have to rely on a public defender. Meanwhile, we're told he will be held at a federal facility near Nashville.

Stone-faced and all business, prosecutors painted their picture of corrupt politicians at a news conference Thursday morning. Prosecutors said they wanted the people of Tennessee to know that Government is not for sale and that's why this investigation was launched. Basically the Feds set up a phony company that asked those indicted for help in getting legislation passed that would be favorable to them. John Ford is charged with taking $55,000 to get his vote and with three counts of threatening and intimidating potential witnesses. Senator Kathryn Bowers, Senator Ward Crutchfield, Representative Chris Newton of Cleveland Tennessee and Former Senator Roscoe Dixon are all charged with taking money for their support. Two other men, Barry Myers of Memphis and Charles Love were also indicted for their parts. Mark Gywn, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said, "This is a labor intensive investigation, very thorough complete investigation we hope will bring some of the public trust back to the state of Tennessee." The indictment says it was Senator John Ford who actually drafted a bill, that had it gone through, would have benefited the fake company. The indictment says John Ford did sponsor a bill for the dummy company. This was a two year investigation involving the FBI and TBI and code named Tennessee Waltz. Prosecutors won't say what spurred the investigation other than tips that this sort of thing was going on.

State Senator John Ford of Memphis has been tight-lipped about past investigations. Shortly after Senator Ford was arrested, agents converged on his downtown office. While police officers set up a perimeter outside 5 North Third, FBI and TBI agents were inside searching Ford's files and computers. After about 7 hours, investigators hauled away several boxes of files and records. A crowd gathered to watch the events unfold. Those we talked to expressed mixed feelings about Ford and his arrest. Memphian Gary Perkins said, "I'm just glad to see that if he is doing it and he is wrong. I'm just glad to see that is getting it - justice is going to be done." Ford supporter Charles Williams said, "Because that's harassment, they are picking on him because they are trying to get him out of office." Now FBI and TBI agents would not comment on what they were searching for. But they loaded up a vehicle with a least 5 boxes of items that they confiscated from Senator Ford's office.

Action News Five dug deeper past Thursday's indictments to find out what constituents of the accused lawmakers think about the indictments. Senator Kathryn Bowers represents District 33. Emotions in the Whitehaven neighborhood Kathryn Bowers calls home, ranged from shock to anger! Our first stop was Senator Bowers' house on Timothy, where a woman who did not identify herself emerged saying she had no comment. But plenty of Bowers' neighbors did want to talk. And while they know she has yet to be found guilty of the charges laid out in the indictment, many were disappointed to hear her name involved in the scandal. Constituent Tony Boone said, "You know Ford, well he's always been in some type of controversy, but Kathryn, she really disappoints me, sad day for Memphis, real sad day for Memphis." Johnny Faulkner said, "Dirty deal, dirty deal if you was going to be in power of the people, be for the people, not try to get rich off the people." People I talked to say life will go on, but it will go on without the trust they once had for Kathryn Bowers.

Kathryn Bowers filled the District 33 seat vacated by Roscoe Dixon. Dixon is accused of accepting more than $9,000 worth of bribes, along with Memphian Barry Myers. According to the indictment, Roscoe Dixon introduced legislation and Barry Myers was the middle man between Dixon and representatives of the fake company the FBI set up. The indictment reads in part, on or about June 26,2003, in Memphis, TN, defendant Barry Myers had a conversation in which he indicated that Roscoe Dixon needed to be paid money in order to support legislation. Terry Harris, U.S. Attorney said, "Former Senator Roscoe Dixon and Barry Myers are charged together with receiving $9,500 in illegal payments." As soon as word of the indictment spread, we went looking for Dixon at his house. No one answered the door. We later found out federal authorities had him in custody. Dixon, a Democrat, represented Senate District 33 in Memphis from 1995-2005. He was a representative in the state house from '83 to '94. Dixon resigned as state senator in January of this year. He is currently the assistant chief administrative officer for Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton. Myers is described in a local paper as a protégé of Dixon. He worked as an administrative assistant under former Shelby County Juvenile Court Shep Wilbun. The indictment says Myers was in essence a "bag man" he collected money and represented certain members of the Tennessee General Assembly. Mayor Wharton is out of two but issued this statement regarding the indictments. "I have been made aware of the indictment of Assistant CAO and former state senator Roscoe Dixon. Because of the ongoing nature of this matter, we are unable to make any comments regarding either the investigation or resulting charges. However, although I have not yet spoken with Mr. Dixon, I expect him to tender his resignation from county government by the end of the day." We called Roscoe Dixon. He said, "I will be tendering my resignation today."

Senator Ward Crutchfield and Representative Chris Newton were also indicted. Crutchfield faced a judge in Nashville. He's accused of accepting $12,000 in bribe money, along with conspiracy charges. Newton also appeared in court. He's accused of accepting $4,500 in bribe money.

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