The John Ford Trial: Two years in the making

In the nearly two years since the original Tennessee Waltz indictments were handed up, Tennesseans have watched on as three of the accused have faced trial and ultimately conviction.  Five others have pleaded guilty to the corruption charges levied against them.

Now, the man widely considered to be the biggest fish caught in this particular federal net faces trial, a wealth of video and audio evidence and a media circus expected to dwarf any and all.

The crowd of would-be spectators is expected to be so significant for John Ford's corruption trial, the Judge in the case, former federal magistrate Daniel Breen, has reportedly requested a second room, a viewing room, be set up for trial-watchers.

In fact, this trial, set to begin Monday, April 9th, is expected to be a substantial affair, lasting twice as long as the trial that sought and saw the conviction of co-defendant and longtime friend Roscoe Dixon.  Prosecutors have indicated they could be in court for as long as a month.

John Ford is charged with bribery and extortion for accepting $55,000 in "cash bribes" between August 2004 and April 2005 in exchange for his influence in passing legislation that favored a dummy company set up by the FBI.

He is also charged with three counts of witness tampering.  The indictment claims Ford threatened to "shoot" individuals working with the FBI.

Video and audiotaped recordings purport to demonstrate Ford's quid pro quo tendency.  Prosecutors will have to prove that - among other things - Ford was inclined to participate in arrangements or exchanges such as these and that he wasn't "entrapped" by over-zealous investigators.

The "sting" involved the advent of a fake company, E-Cycle Inc., which claimed to be in the business of recycling old computer equipment by shipping it overseas.  The undercover agents gained access to state lawmakers, wined and dined them and offered them money to help usher favorable legislation through the various chambers of state government.

E-Cycle executives, really current and former FBI agents working undercover, were looking for an easy-in to a major state contract.

In the case of Dixon, who went to trial and was convicted last year, trial-watchers and jurors were exposed to measurable bragging and posturing by Dixon and others, eager to demonstrate their virility in the state legislature.

The Ford trial is expected to reveal the same evidence.

It will also likely further reveal the extent to which undercover informant Tim Willis, a former political player in his own right, was offered privileged status by the government in exchange for his cooperation and orchestration of the sting.  Willis was essentially charged with putting people together and played the role of consultant for sham company E-Cycle.

An embattled small-fry facing sentencing on identity theft charges himself, Willis was offered the opportunity to help the government snag willing lawmakers and he pounced, agreeing to himself wear a wire and lead potential defendants to his "office" where unbeknownst to them, they were being video-taped.

During some of the reporting leading up to this trial, Action News 5 broke the story about Tim Willis' film "Street Life," a separate endeavor in which he was apparently engaged during the outplay of the Tennessee Waltz sting.  Willis clearly used some of the E-Cycle offices as sets for the filming of his movie. 

In interviews, Ford's lawyer and other Waltz defense attorneys indicated defendants were aware Willis was making a movie and that possible defense strategies might include claims they believed they were acting when they were caught on tape taking money.

To read the indictment against John Ford,


To read our live blog of events in court,


To return to our Tennessee Waltz: John Ford coverage page,