Mid-South lawmaker admits taking money

Rep. Lois DeBerry, the second-ranking
member of the Tennessee House, says she took $200 cash from a
representative of a fake company at the heart of the government's
Tennessee Waltz corruption investigation.

That's according to the Commercial Appeal.

The money, which was used for gambling at a Mississippi casino, came from an FBI agent posing as a representative of E-Cycle Management, a bogus company that was supposedly seeking favorable legislation in Nashville.

DeBerry said she did nothing wrong and thought the money was a birthday gift. No charges have been filed against DeBerry, a Memphis Democrat and House speaker pro tempore.

She said she did not talk with the agent, identified only by the initials L.C., about E-Cycle's stated desire to buy and resell used government computers.

Tennessee Waltz has led to bribery and extortion charges against five current or former state lawmakers and two other defendants identified as "bag men."

Undercover agents working on the two-year Tennessee Waltz investigation met with numerous lawmakers as well as local officials in Shelby and Hamilton counties while looking for evidence of public corruption.

The investigation, which is ongoing, has raised statewide criticism of rules governing how friendly lawmakers can get with lobbyists and others with business before the General Assembly.

One of the lawmakers charged in the investigation is Sen. Kathryn Bowers, D-Memphis. All of those charged have pleaded innocent.

DeBerry told The Commercial Appeal newspaper that she went to the Grand Casino in Tunica, Miss., with Bowers and L.C. in May 2004. DeBerry said she and Bowers were celebrating their birthdays.

DeBerry said she was standing at a slot machine when the agent handed her $200.

"He came back there and said, 'Look, I want y'all to have a good time for your birthday. And here's a birthday gift to play with,"' DeBerry quoted the agent as saying.

DeBerry said she did not report the money, which she lost gambling, to state officials because she considered it a personal gift.

"I have always tried to do the right thing," she said. "In hindsight, you have to always be careful."

Lawmakers are required to report gifts from lobbyists, but it is not legally clear if the agent was one since E-Cycle was a fake company.

If accepting the gift was improper, that could lead to a $400 fine.

"It sounds clearly in violation of the spirit of the law," said Dick Williams, state chairman of Tennessee Common Cause.

An FBI agent, who went by the initials L.C., was featured on a video clip shown at a bond hearing for former Sen. John Ford, D-Memphis. The agent could be seen counting out money which Ford then pocketed.

Ford, who also is charged in the investigation, resigned from the Senate following his indictment.