Woman claiming sex plot against Memphis mayor arrested

Gwendolyn Smith (Nashville mug shot 06/15/07
Gwendolyn Smith (Nashville mug shot 06/15/07

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - A nightclub waitress claiming to be part of a plot to snag the mayor in a sex scandal was arrested Friday for smoking marijuana while on probation for an unrelated forgery conviction.

Gwendolyn Smith, 29, has told police she was recruited by political enemies of Mayor Willie Herenton to seduce him and videotape their sexual encounter.

Herenton held a news conference on Thursday thanking Smith for exposing the alleged plot and expounding on his belief that wealthy conspirators are trying to undermine his bid for re-election to a fifth term.

Smith surrendered for arrest Friday afternoon in Nashville, in the custody of two Memphis police officers, on a warrant for violating probation from a forgery conviction in 2004.

Her parole was violated when she tested positive for marijuana, said Don Aaron, a spokesman for Nashville police.

Smith, a former waitress at a topless nightclub, contends she was offered $150,000 to take part in the sex-scandal plot by Richard Fields, a well-known Memphis lawyer long involved in civil rights causes.

Fields, who represented Smith in connection with the Nashville forgery charge, denied the allegation and described her as a drug abuser and scam artist.

"She's desperate for money," he said. "She thinks the mayor or somebody will pay her money." Herenton said Smith came to him saying she had soured on the plot and wanted to warn him.

Memphis police were looking into the claim, and Herenton called on the Justice Department and the governor to investigate too. "I don't know where it's going to go," said Police Director Larry Godwin.

"It may be something. It may be nothing." Smith's claims will likely have little effect on Herenton's re-election campaign unless the allegations are verified, said Marcus Pohlmann, a political scientist at Rhodes College of Memphis.

"But if there are wealthy individuals willing to go to those lengths to defeat him, it could help him and energize his base," Pohlmann said.

Herenton, the city's first elected black mayor, has easily won re-election since his initial victory in 1991 in the closest mayor's race in Memphis history. He vows to run again in October.

Herenton, 67, refused to name the critics he believes were behind the sex-scandal plot but described them as a group of wealthy businessmen. "More than one," is all he would say when asked how many people he suspected were in the group.

"Obviously, the mayor has made some enemies over the years, and the fact that some of those enemies have a lot of money shouldn't be any great surprise," Pohlmann said. "The rumor mill has it there have been at least a couple of wealthy folks out there trying to recruit an opponent. Who knows? Is it personal? Is it business? It doesn't seem to be reflective of the community in general."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)