Tapes shown in sequence reveal increasingly paranoid John Ford

Overhead undercover camera shows agent McNeil counting out $100 bills for Ford
Overhead undercover camera shows agent McNeil counting out $100 bills for Ford
(Artist: Bobby Spillman)
(Artist: Bobby Spillman)

In video and audiotapes shown in federal court Friday, former State Senator John Ford can be seen growing increasingly paranoid, pacing, looking for hidden cameras and - prosecutors claim - threatening to kill an undercover FBI agent.

The tapes are part of the ongoing testimony of an FBI agent code-named L.C. McNeil, who puported to be the Vice-President of dummy company E-Cycle, the vessel upon which the Tennessee Waltz sting journeyed from advent to fruition, from proposal to indictments and arrests.

Prosecutor Tim DiScenza spent the entirety of Friday introducing exhibits into evidence that document McNeil's relationship with Ford, their regular meetings and discussions about E-Cycle's legislation, the same legislation that federal agents claim they paid bribes to have Ford usher through the legislature.

Through Mid-2004 to Early-2005, tapes document meetings between the two where they would review draft stages of legislation that would give the fake company a nearly exclusive contract to recycle surplus state computers.  At many of these meetings, hidden video cameras captured McNeil counting out stacks of hundred-dollar bills, totalling $5,000 per visit, and passing them to Ford.

And Ford's apparent eagerness to be spoiled seems clear too.  In one telephone conversation taped in October of 2004, McNeil calls Ford to check on the status of their legislation.  McNeil pretends to be in Atlanta on his way to Chicago to visit his son, who the jury - during breaks in playback - learns doesn't really exist.

McNeil can be heard asking Ford if he needs anything.

"Yeah, ah, send me a little money," Ford says.

"I'll send something the latter part of next, you know, to get up there, maybe the week out..." says McNeil.

Jurors and trial-watchers were also exposed to Ford's colorful language, explicit and ubiquitous on the recordings, and his talking and bragging about women.

While Ford's current girlfriend, Connie Matthews, and two daughters sat in the gallery, prosecutors played tapes where Ford boasted about having "a girl" waiting in his hotel room.  In a recording in November of that year, Ford can be heard telling McNeil about a young lady he met, an "ambassador from Dom Perignon" who, he said on the tape, is "one of the finest mother****ers you ever seen in your life" and who he wants to see on a pending E-Cycle trip to Miami.

Most compelling though, is the clear development of Ford's anxiety, which began to become clear in March of 2005, two months before the sting was revealed.

In conversations with McNeil, Ford begins to talk about being followed and watched.  In one video-taped payoff session, Ford doesn't sit down, instead pacing and staring out the window.

He is simultaneously threatening to McNeil - suggesting that he will kill him if betrayed - and determined to keep their relationship strong.

When McNeil tells Ford that his partner, E-Cycle President Joe Carson (retired FBI agent Joseph Carroll), is worried about multiple press reports chronicling Ford's problems with child custody cases and potential conflicts of interests, Ford launches into angry tirades about his power in Nashville and his frustration with the press.

"I'm the most effective mother****er up there," he says. "I can get more done than ten mother****ers arguing the s**t."

In one of the latter videotaped recordings played for jurors Friday, Ford stares at a series of holes in the wall surrounding a picture of Mohammed Ali in the Memphis E-Cycle office.  Clearly, says McNeil, Ford was worried he was being recorded.

During that visit, Ford can be seen - in a separate recording shot from above - picking up an envelope of cash left on a desk for him, rather than taking it from McNeil directly.

Prosecutors were able to show most of their evidence during Ford's fifth day in court.  Before U.S. District Judge J. Daniel Breen requested a weekend recess, DiScenza had managed to lead jurors through the last portions of the sting, when McNeil and others were trying to keep the fake legislation from hitting the floor of the Senate.

Court reconvenes Monday morning at 9:30 am.

Click here to read our live blog of the trial.
Click here to view our John Ford trial coverage page.