Jury in Ford trial goes home after afternoon deliberations

John Ford (Drawing by Bobby Spillman.)
John Ford (Drawing by Bobby Spillman.)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - Jurors began deliberations Wednesday in the trial of a once-influential state senator accused of taking $55,000 in bribes from a fake FBI company that supposedly sought changes to state law.

Former state Sen. John Ford, 64, was targeted in a federal corruption investigation because of his work on behalf of E-Cycle Management, which claimed to buy and resell used government computers.

Jurors deliberated more than four hours in the afternoon before leaving for the day.

In final arguments, defense attorney Michael Scholl accused the FBI of trapping his client.

The FBI spent hundreds of thousands of dollars going after Ford, Scholl said, and convinced the Memphis Democrat to help the company.

Scholl argued that the part-time lawmaker and full-time consultant thought he was drawing legitimate payments for his business advice.

"There's nothing wrong with paying somebody with cash," he said.

Prosecutors painted a different picture of Ford's initial contact with the FBI, saying he showed up uninvited and boasted about his legislative influence at an E-Cycle dinner in April 2004.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim DiScenza rejected Scholl's argument that the FBI went too far by using a fake company and undercover agents.

Corrupt officials and the people who bribe them do not talk to outsiders, DiScenza said, so investigators often must pretend to be part of payoff schemes.

"It's the only way they can be investigated," he said. "Who's going to stop them?" Jurors saw eight video clips of Ford taking stacks of $100 bills from an undercover FBI agent.

They also heard dozens of audio recordings of Ford and the agent talking about changes to the law that would give E-Cycle an advantage over competitors.

Ford is on trial on charges of extortion, bribery and threatening a federal witness. He is one of five current or former state lawmakers charged with taking bribes in an investigation code-named Tennessee Waltz.

One has been convicted, another has pleaded guilty and two are awaiting trial. Ford, once one of Tennessee's most powerful state lawmakers, is the uncle of former congressman and U.S.

Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr. and brother of former Rep. Harold Ford Sr., D-Tenn. Overall, the Tennessee Waltz investigation has led to indictments against 11 defendants, including several local officials in Memphis and Chattanooga.

Ford is charged in an indictment with: Count 1:  Extortion Count 2:  Bribery Count 3:  Witness Tampering Count 4:  Witness Tampering Count 5:  Witness Tampering

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