Witness: Ford had no influence on state contract - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Witness: Ford had no influence on state contract

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Two TennCare employees testified Tuesday that former state Sen. John Ford did not influence a decision to award an exclusive state dental contract to a Wisconsin company.

Ford, who is being tried in Nashville on corruption charges, is accused of pocketing more than $800,000 to advance the interests of TennCare contractors Doral Dental and OmniCare in the legislature. The Memphis Democrat contends he was paid for work done outside Tennessee.

The state awarded Doral Dental, of Mequon, Wis., an $18 million contract in 2002 to manage all the dental benefits for TennCare.

The contract was awarded after five independent evaluators looked at both companies. The five testified Tuesday that Ford made no attempts to influence their evaluations.

The first witness to testify for Ford was Katie Lamb, a legislative liaison with the Bureau of TennCare who submitted a state request for companies to bid on the exclusive dental contract.

"At any time during the course of that process did you receive a single call from John Ford suggesting how this process ought to proceed?" asked Ford's attorney, Isaiah "Skip" Gant.       "No," Lamb said.

Additionally, Alma Chilton, a contract coordinator with TennCare, testified that she never spoke with Ford during the bidding process.

Doral Dental and Delta Dental were the only two companies to bid on the contract.

Earlier testimony showed that Doral paid Ford's consulting group about $1.2 million in a deal that only one or two top executives at Doral knew about. The consulting agreement took place before the company got the exclusive state contract.

In 2001, Ford publicly opposed the idea of one company handling all dental benefits for TennCare. But a witness testified earlier that Ford changed his mind after a private meeting with the co-founder and CEO of Doral.

An Atlanta attorney also testified for the defense on Tuesday.

Kirkland McGhee told the jury he met Ford and former OmniCare CEO Osbie Howard in Georgia several times in 2004 because the company was trying to get a Medicaid contract in that state.

McGhee said he had been hired to help Memphis-based OmniCare get an insurance license in Georgia. He said he hoped that Ford, who was active in the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, could convince black lawmakers in Georgia to support OmniCare.

Two health care consultants also testified that they met with Ford, Howard and others to help OmniCare get the Georgia contract. OmniCare, which is now UAHC of Tennessee, was not awarded the contract.

When questioned by Assistant U.S. Attorney Eli Richardson, McGhee and the consultants said they had no idea whether Ford worked in Tennessee for OmniCare's parent company, United American Healthcare Corp.

That company entered into a consulting agreement with Ford in May 2001 that ultimately paid the lawmaker $420,500.

U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell told jurors the defense may finish its case by the end of the day on Wednesday.

Ford is currently serving a 5 1/2 year prison sentence for a separate bribery conviction.


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

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