Defense: Former Memphis councilman was set up - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Defense: Former Memphis councilman was set up

By WOODY BAIRD
Associated Press Writer

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - A former city councilman was videotaped taking money from an undercover informant and vowing to push for a real estate project needing the council's OK, a prosecutor told jurors Tuesday.

Former council member Edmund Ford Sr., whose bribery and extortion trial began Tuesday, is charged with accepting almost $9,000 in bribes to back the project and help replace the chairman of a city zoning board.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Larry Laurenzi described Ford to jurors as a past close associate of former lobbyist Joe Cooper, who is awaiting sentencing on an unrelated money laundering conviction.

Cooper told the FBI he paid bribes to Ford, a member of a politically prominent Memphis family, and another former councilman now in federal prison, and is expected to testify for the prosecution.

Laurenzi said Ford and Cooper, who represented clients with business before the council, had a simple arrangement focused on "what Mr. Cooper can do for Mr. Ford and what Mr. Ford can do for Mr. Cooper."

Defense lawyer Michael Scholl, meanwhile, described Cooper as an admitted liar, "a man who laundered money for drug dealers," who is trying to help himself by testifying against Ford.

Ford, a two-term councilman who chose not to run for re-election last year, was initially charged along with former council member Rickey Peete, who has since pleaded guilty to bribery and is serving a four-year prison term.

Ford faces six charges of interfering with interstate commerce through extortion and taking bribes in exchange for his city council votes. The trial is expected to last about a week.

Ford's family has long been active in Memphis politics, and he is the brother of former Rep. Harold Ford Sr., D-Tenn., and former state Sen. John Ford, who is serving a five-year prison sentence on an unrelated bribery conviction.

Laurenzi said an investigation into Edmund Ford's activities on the council began in 2006 after Cooper was charged with helping launder money for drug dealers.

Cooper, who was convicted of federal bank fraud in the late 1970s, told the FBI that he had paid bribes to city council members, Laurenzi said, and he agreed to wear a recording device when meeting with Ford.

Handed $2,000 by Cooper during one discussion on the real estate project, Ford responded, "I'll get on it," as he accepted the money, Laurenzi told the jury.

Scholl described Cooper as an "evil, lying criminal" who would do "whatever it takes to keep from going to prison again."

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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