Ford gets bond but to remain under house arrest in bribery case

State Sen. John Ford was placed under house arrest Friday after prosecutors played a video of the lawmaker watching an undercover agent count out $10,000 and an audiotape of him threatening a potential witness. The tapes were played at a bond hearing a day after Ford was charged as part of a two-year FBI sting operation nicknamed "Tennessee Waltz." Ford is charged with four current and former state lawmakers with taking payoffs, but he alone is accused of threatening to kill witnesses. U.S. Magistrate Diane Vescovo set bond at $20,000 and ordered Ford to remain under house arrest until his trial. The lawmaker then slipped out the courthouse through a garage exit, avoiding the news media. The videotape that Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim DiScenza said captured Ford accepting a bribe showed the senator across the desk from an undercover FBI agent who is laying down $100 bills. Ford is leaning over the desk and the agent asks him if he's counting. Ford says, "I ain't trying to count. I trust you." FBI agent Mark Jackson played a scratchy audiotape made by an undercover informant who met with Ford on Feb. 3. Ford mentioned that he owned a gun and could shoot someone. The informant could be heard laughing, which Jackson described as nervous laughter because "the threat sounded legitimate to him." Jackson said that when an undercover FBI agent who had acted as go-between for Ford and a sham company created for the sting met the lawmaker on March 11 he didn't wear a recording device because Ford seemed suspicious and might try to frisk him. The agent's written report of the encounter said Ford told him that "if he caught someone trying to set him up, he would shoot that person, kill them, so that there would be no witnesses." Defense attorney Michael Scholl said in closing arguments, "Mr. Ford has a problem of running his mouth too much." He said the government's evidence was nothing but "snippets of conversations" with undercover agents who had befriended Ford and were "having a drink ... laughing and joking and talking." "No one is in any more danger with Mr. Ford out in the community than they are if he is locked up," Scholl said. After prosecutors appealed the decision to let Ford go, a hearing on the issue was set for Tuesday with Ford ordered to remain at home until then. Other conditions for Ford's release included requiring him to say where he will live. Ford maintains separate households with two women who have had his children. An attorney wrote the address Ford picked on a piece of paper and showed it to the judge. He also must keep his job, wear an electronic monitor, not contact any witnesses and not keep any firearms. Prosecutors said during the hearing that a search of Ford's property found two revolvers and a removable magazine for another handgun. He also can't leave the federal court district except to appear in Nashville before the Senate Ethics Committee, which is investigating him on an array of unrelated allegations. Ford cannot attend regular sessions of the Legislature, which is working to adjourn this week. The senator, wearing the same suit he was arrested in on Thursday, said nothing in court except "yes, ma'am" that he understood the conditions Vescovo set. Ford is accused of taking $55,000 between August and April. The government said $92,000 in all was paid to those indicted to usher bills for E-cycle through the Legislature. The others charged are Democratic Sens. Kathryn Bowers and Ward Crutchfield; Republican Rep. Chris Newton; and former state Sen. Roscoe Dixon, a Democrat. The indictment also named Charles Love, a lobbyist from Chattanooga and member of the local school board, and Barry Myers, a Memphian who was a candidate to temporarily replace Dixon in the Senate. Each is charged with acting as a go-between for the lawmakers and the company. Love made his initial court appearance Friday in Chattanooga and was released on his own recognizance. The other defendants were released Thursday without posting bond.