Last of 5 state lawmakers charged in 'Waltz' probe pleads guilty

By WOODY BAIRD Associated Press Writer

MEMPHIS , Tenn. (AP) - The last of five lawmakers indicted in an undercover public corruption probe dubbed Tennessee Waltz pleaded guilty Monday to bribery. Former state Sen.

Kathryn Bowers, 64, a Memphis Democrat, pleaded guilty to one federal count accusing her of splitting $11,500 with an accomplice who served as a go-between with FBI agents posing as dishonest businessmen.

She had insisted for two years that she was innocent. "I needed to go on and admit that I'd made some mistakes so that I can go on and try to move on with my life," Bowers said outside court.

In exchange for her plea, prosecutors dropped five more serious charges of extortion, each carrying a maximum of 20 years in prison.

The bribery charge carries a maximum 10-year prison term and a fine of $250,000, though federal guidelines would call for a much lighter sentence for a first-time offender. Sentencing was set for Oct. 24.

Defense lawyer William Massey said Bowers' plea agreement did not include a sentencing recommendation but she hoped to persuade U.S. District Judge Jon McCalla to go easy on her. "She made a mistake.

She did. She's admitting that, but she's done a lot of good things and she's been a good person," Massey said.

The Tennessee Waltz investigation began in 2004 and was built around E-Cycle Management, a fake company set up by the FBI supposedly to buy and resell used government computers. The company offered bribes to local officials for government contracts.

Four sitting lawmakers and one former legislator were indicted in May 2005, setting off a scandal that led to changes in state ethics laws.

Prosecutors said Bowers was one of the first lawmakers to fall for the FBI sting and helped undercover agents posing as E-Cycle representatives make contact with other legislators.

She resigned from the Senate last year, citing poor health. In all, the Tennessee Waltz investigation has led to indictments against 11 defendants, including several local officials in Memphis   and Chattanooga.

Including Bowers, 10 of those charged were convicted, and a former member of the Memphis school board awaits trial. U.S. Attorney David Kustoff declined to comment but said the investigation continues.

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