Prosecutor determined to resolve sex allegations by Memphis Mayor - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Prosecutor determined to resolve sex allegations by Memphis Mayor

MEMPHIS , Tenn. (AP) - A special prosecutor examining allegations by Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton that powerful businessmen tried to frame him in a sex sting says he's determined to bring the matter to a close.

"It's a serious matter and I want to try to resolve it if I can," said Joe Baugh, a former district attorney in Williamson County now in private practice in Franklin, Tenn.

Baugh said last week that he has two Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agents working the case and plans to subpoena records to help resolve the matter.

His focus involves allegations by former nightclub waitress Gwendolyn D. Smith, 29, that businessmen offered her money in an unconsummated plot to lure Herenton into a videotaped sexual encounter.

Earlier this month, Herenton, the city's first elected black mayor, won a fifth consecutive four-year term.

If a plot was hatched to coerce the mayor to not seek another term, Baugh said bringing Smith into it could amount to a criminal solicitation to commit extortion.

However, he said wading through the allegations and conflicting accounts has been challenging.

A key to sorting it out, Baugh said, involves Smith's complicated relationship to prominent Memphis lawyer Richard Fields, whom Smith names as the principal player in the alleged plot.

Smith claims the 60-year-old Fields - who was once married to her cousin - pressured her for sex after she hired him in 2005 to represent her in a criminal forgery case in Nashville.

Smith, a former topless bar cocktail waitress, alleges Fields persuaded her to go to the FBI with accounts that a strip club owner had supplied Herenton with strippers for parties.

When that went nowhere, Fields then conscripted Smith as bait to lure the controversial mayor into a videotaped sexual encounter, she said.

Fields denies Smith's claims that he pressured her for sex or that he tried to frame Herenton, a former law client and close political ally.

The lawyer said it was Smith, not him, who wanted to go to the FBI with accounts of Herenton and strippers. Smith's current lawyer, Jay Bailey, said last week that, if nothing else, Fields is guilty of unethical behavior as an attorney.

After becoming Smith's attorney of record in her Nashville forgery case, Fields guided Smith into bars to investigate Herenton, a violation of her probation, Bailey said.

Because of that, he said a complaint will be filed with the state Board of Professional Responsibility, which polices attorney conduct.

Fields said he didn't know Smith was still on probation from her Nashville conviction when she approached him in late 2006 offering her account of Herenton and strippers.

Nevertheless, Baugh said his probe is not focused on attorney conduct, but were unethical behavior found, it would be reported to the BPR.

"There's certainly a blurring of the lines there," Baugh said of Fields' relationship to Smith.

Regarding the case's larger allegations, Fields said only that he has met with the TBI and has answered everything completely.

Bailey said Smith, too, has met with TBI agents and is cooperating fully.

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

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