Prosecutors seek gag order in Tennessee Waltz case

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - Prosecutors in the Tennessee Waltz public corruption cases are seeking a gag order to prevent public comments or release of evidence before the cases are concluded.

Prosecutors cited a recent news story by The Commercial Appeal based on videotaped evidence in the case that had not been publicly released. The gag order is needed to ensure the defendants receive a fair trial, prosecutors said in making the request

The lawyer for indicted former state Sen. John Ford said being unable to talk about the case is a disadvantage for those who have been charged.

"We will fight a gag order," Ford's attorney Michael Scholl said. "Not being able to talk about the case gives (prosecutors) an unfair advantage."

Scholl said he supports keeping the case evidence under wraps.

Tennessee Waltz was an undercover investigation centered on E-Cycle Management, a fake company created by the FBI seeking favors from state and local government officials to buy and sell used computers in Tennessee.

Ford is charged with taking $55,000 in bribes from E-Cycle agents. He also is charged with threatening a government witness.

The motions filed by the government Thursday also acknowledged for the first time that former Shelby County Commission administrator Calvin Williams was among those charged in the Tennessee Waltz investigation. That brings to eight the number of public officials charged in the investigation.

Williams was charged last fall with taking a $1,500 bribe and is scheduled to go to trial next month.

In their gag order request, prosecutors cited a story in Sunday's edition of The Commercial Appeal. The story was based on previously unseen videotapes, one showing an undercover agent giving $4,000 in cash to lobbyist Charles Love and asking him to give $2,500 to state Rep. Larry Miller, D-Memphis.

Miller has not been charged in the case, but Love has pleaded guilty to funneling bribes from undercover agents to public officials. He also has conceded that he kept some of the money given to him by the agents.

The tapes, recorded Nov. 18-19, 2004, in East Tennessee, also show Ford and then-Rep. Chris Newton discussing plans with an undercover agent.

Newton, a Cleveland Republican, pleaded guilty and has been sentenced to a year in prison. Ford has pleaded not guilty and awaits trial.

The tapes are just part of an estimated 3,000 hours of video and phone tap evidence.

The "Tennessee Waltz" scandal led to a special session of the Legislature, which passed a sweeping ethics reform bill creating an independent ethics commission, restricting lobbyists and capping cash political contributions.

Trials are scheduled later this year for Ford and former state Sen. Roscoe Dixon, both Memphis Democrats and Shelby County Commissioner Michael Hooks, also a Democrat. No trial dates have been set for Sen. Kathryn Bowers, D-Memphis, or Sen. Ward Crutchfield, D-Chattanooga.

Hamilton County Commissioner William Cotton was the first defendant to go to trial and was found guilty on some charges last month.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)