Colleagues express shock over turn in career for three lawmakers

Chris Newton was considered a rising star. The 33-year-old ambitious Republican quickly impressed lawmakers on both sides of the aisle with his quick study of tough legislative issues and ability to help pass them, including bills establishing the lottery and its college scholarships. But they were stunned Thursday when the Cleveland Republican, three other lawmakers and a former legislator were arrested as part of a two-year FBI probe into bribes taken from a bogus company called E-Cycle Management. "Chris showed a commitment to the issues," said Sen. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, who worked closely with Newton on the lottery legislation. "He worked hard, and was effective in gathering the votes." The other legislators charged were Sens. Kathryn Bowers, John Ford and Ward Crutchfield, all Democrats; and former state Sen. Roscoe Dixon, who resigned later Thursday as a top aide to the Shelby County mayor. The indictment also named two people who are not lawmakers: 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. But it was the arrest of the diverse group of lawmakers - three black, two white, some urban and one from Appalachia - that sent shock waves throughout the General Assembly and across Tennessee. Many lawmakers didn't seem surprised at the arrest of Ford, 63, who is fighting other ethical charges this year. But they question the alleged involvement of the others. Rep. John DeBerry said it's hard to believe that Dixon, 55, and Bowers, 62, would risk their reputations and all they've worked so hard to achieve. "I've known Kathryn for many years, all the way back to the Civil Rights era," DeBerry said. "She's made sacrifices to be here." However, even more surprising, lawmakers say, was the arrest of Crutchfield, a veteran lawmaker and attorney. He and Newton are both white. "I have never in 19 years serving with him, heard anything, either by rumor or reputation, that indicated Ward Crutchfield would do anything remotely like what is alleged," said Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden. Rep. Frank Buck, who has been championing tough ethics legislation this session, agreed. "I just thought he wouldn't do something like that," the Dowelltown Democrat said. "I thought there was more character there." Crutchfield, 76, is the only one of the lawmakers who has said he's innocent. He, Bowers and Newton were released on their own recognizance Thursday after appearing before a federal magistrate in Nashville. Ford had a hearing scheduled for Friday in Memphis. If convicted on all six charges, Bowers faces a maximum penalty of 110 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine. Newton and Crutchfield are both named in two counts, and each faces a maximum sentence of up to 25 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. If Ford is convicted on all five charges, he could be sentenced to 60 years in prison and a $1.25 million fine. Despite the indictments, DeBerry believes the reputations of their colleagues are salvageable, but they have to be honest with their constituents. "The challenge is going to be looking the people in the eye, and telling them exactly what's going on," he said. "I think people are fair enough to give a good public servant a break if they believe that anybody can make a mistake and anybody can be seduced or misled or lied to."

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