Joe Cooper Considering Yet Another Run for Public Office

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Joe Cooper
  • JB
  • Joe Cooper
I am not making this up: Joe Cooper — yes, that Joe Cooper, the former county squire, perennial candidate, and twice-convicted felon — is considering running in 2014 for the District 5 seat on the Shelby County Commission now held by Steve Mulroy.

Cooper was defeated for the position in the 2006 Democratic primary by Mulroy, a University of Memphis law professor who is prohibited from running again in 2014 by county charter prohibitions limiting a commissioner to two terms in office.

“I think people are tired of all the commotion and crazy stuff on the commission,” says Cooper, who believes that he would be able to facilitate public business and reduce some of the current confusion because of his experience as a member of the old County Court (precursor of the Commission), as well as his many years of serving as an official aide, go-between, and deal-broker for seated politicians and people seeking access to power.

Of course, some of that experience resulted in two felony convictions for Cooper, who served a prison term in the ‘70s for bank fraud and another in 2008-2009 for money-laundering in connection with a scheme in which Cooper, then a car salesman, arranged car loans for drug dealers by using third parties as signatories of record for the purchases.

Cooper’s sentence for the latter offense was reduced in return for cooperating with the FBI and the Department of Justice in setting up sting arrests for two longtime associates — then City Council members Rickey Peete and Edmond Ford Sr. — who were charged with accepting bribes from Cooper in return for their votes in favor of city ordinances. Peete pleaded guilty and Ford, who was exonerated in a jury trial, pleaded not guilty.

“I know I’ve got some baggage, but I also know how to get things done,” says Cooper, who most recently has been involved in a variety of business enterprises with wrestler/announcer Jerry Lawler, a longtime associate. (Lawler is now recuperating from a serious heart attack suffered just days ago while broadcasting a wrestling event in Canada.)

Cooper had been an influential member of the Shelby County Court prior to his conviction on the ‘70s bank fraud charges — which stemmed from his having prevailed on friends, many of them well-placed, to make loans in their own names, thereafter turning the money over to Cooper, who pledged to supply the funds for repayment. That Cooper was punished for these “nominee loans” while his helpers weren’t was an unusual aspect of the prosecution, which some besides Cooper himself saw as being politically motivated.

Over the years Cooper attempted several business ventures — restaurants, especially — with varying degrees of success, none of it long-term. He also made several runs for local office and assisted other office-holders, notably Minerva Johnican, whom he served as CAO during her tenure as Criminal Court Clerk. He also for several years orchestrated an annual Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless on Beale Street.

Cooper says he does not believe he is affected by legislation passed by the Tennessee General Assembly in the wake of several scandals involving office-holders, including Peete, prohibiting them from running again for political office after their conviction for felonies committed during their tenure in office.

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