Former state Sen. John Ford to be sentenced Tuesday

Associated Press Writer

MEMPHIS , Tenn. (AP) - Former state Sen. John Ford, once one of Tennessee's most powerful lawmakers, will learn his federal prison sentence for bribery on Tuesday.

Ford, 64, faces a maximum 10-year prison term, though he argues his sentence should be no longer than 33 months.

A sentencing hearing began Monday afternoon before Judge J. Daniel Breen and lasted five hours before Breen recessed the proceedings until Tuesday.

The presentence report is confidential and the U.S. attorney's office refused comment on how long prosecutors think Ford should spend in prison.

Ford, 64, is one of five former state lawmakers convicted of bribery or extortion in the statewide FBI investigation code named "Tennessee Waltz."

He was convicted in April of taking $55,000 in bribes to help a computer recycling company called E-Cycle Management change state law for a business advantage.

E-Cycle turned out, however, to be an FBI shell company created for the public corruption investigation.

In a court petition, defense lawyer Michael Scholl said federal sentencing guidelines should call for a prison term of 27 to 33 months. Scholl filed numerous objections to the presentence report prepared for Breen by the U.S. Probation Office.

Such reports outline a guilty party's extent of wrongdoing and criminal past. Judges rely on them for sentencing but can stray from the guidelines.

Ford, a Memphis Democrat, took the most bribe money by far of the Tennessee Waltz lawmakers and is the best known statewide.

He is a member of one of Memphis' most active political families and is the uncle of former congressman and U.S. Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr., who is currently chairman of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council.

Former state Sen. Roscoe Dixon, D-Memphis, is the only other Tennessee lawmaker convicted at trial and is serving a five-year prison sentence. The other lawmakers pleaded guilty.

Two await sentencing and the other spent nine months in prison. Ford, who spent 30 years in the Senate, also faces unrelated federal charges in Nashville where he is accused of misreporting $800,000 in payments from contractors with TennCare, the state's medical insurance program for the poor.

In Memphis , Ford's jury failed to reach a verdict on an extortion charge and prosecutors dismissed it.

He was acquitted on charges of threatening a witness. Rep. Chris Newton, R-Cleveland, pleaded guilty to accepting bribes shortly after the Tennessee Waltz indictments were made public in 2005.

He spent nine months in prison. Former Sen. Ward Crutchfield, D-Chattanooga, and former Sen. Kathryn Bowers, D-Memphis, pleaded guilty last month and have yet to be sentenced.

Overall, the investigation led to criminal charges against 11 defendants, including several local officials in Memphis and Chattanooga.

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