John Ford’s J’ACCUSE!

The former state Senator, off probation and free to speak at last, proclaims his innocence and alleges he was imprisoned by a government conspiracy.

Posted by Jackson Baker on Sat, Mar 22, 2014 at 8:00 PM

Former state Senator and convicted felon John Ford, who finally received notification late last week that the legal probation which followed his release from federal prison in August 2012 was at an end, is free to speak freely about what’s on his mind now, and one thing very much on his mind is a belief that he is an innocent man who was “set up” by a predatory justice system determined to target Democrats.

In the course of two lengthy sit-down interviews with Ford — one last October in the living room of his condominium in a gated East Memphis suburb, another at the Ruth’s Chris Steak House restaurant in January — along with several telephone conversations, the former kingpin state Senator, now meditating on a possible electoral comeback, confided his assorted thoughts and recollections about his fall from grace and his two felony trials of the late ‘90s.

John Ford at home again
  • JB
  • John Ford at home again
My reporting on certain matters discussed in these conversations was, by mutual agreement including a guarantee of exclusivity, to be withheld until the expiration of Ford’s probation period. Ford has begun discussing several of these matters in at least one scheduled television interview, however, rendering moot the issue of exclusivity, as well as any further delay in publication.

A comprehensive article on our conversations, “Waiting for Godot with John Ford,” will appear in the April issue of Memphis Magazine, and this article, a preliminary to that one, but containing a wealth of different detail, focuses more explicitly on some of the more sensitive legal matters discussed.

A key matter, of course, was the substance of the federal government’s case against Ford in the case that resulted in his conviction for bribery in Memphis in 2007 and a prison term of four-plus years, largely served in the low-security federal facility at Yazoo City, Mississippi.

"The crime was being committed on their part"

“The crime was being committed on their part,” Ford says of the FBI agents who netted Ford, along with six other officials, in the “Tennessee Waltz” sting of May 2005.

“If you tried to bribe me, you would be guilty of trying to bribe me,” Ford says, but he contends that the video, used in evidence at his trial, that shows him taking thousands of dollars in bills from an agent posing as a legislative lobbyist, allegedly to secure Ford’s help in passing a bill, was in effect edited to distort the facts.

“All they had was what they recorded on tape. You can make a video show what you want it to show,” says Ford. “Where’s the evidence? They’re the ones making a recording. There’s nothing illegal about that, about somebody counting out money and giving it to you. They give you some money and talk about something else.”

"There’s nothing illegal about that, about somebody counting out money and giving it to you. They give you some money and talk about something else.”

This sounds stupefyingly disingenuous, to say the least, but one is reminded of another video used in a trial, this one of veteran pol Joe Cooper offering money to then City Councilman Edmund Ford Sr., John Ford’s brother, ostensibly to guarantee Councilman Ford’s vote in a pending zoning case.

Cooper, working off a prior bust of his own by going undercover for the feds, talks about so many different things in the video — a loan here, a favor there, two or three other votes and propositions in addition to the zoning case —that the jury was unable to make any specific quid-pro-quo connections, and Edmund Ford was acquitted..

Now John Ford, who never testified in his own behalf, is arguing something similar about his own trial. “In the video, they show that when they’re talking about one thing, they give you the money because of work on something else.”
Is Ford saying that the money was passed for something other than the illegal purposes the government said it was for? “That’s exactly what I’m saying,” is Ford’s answer, but he doesn’t specify what that other purpose -- the “something else” --was.

“What bothers me is why they go after people who are not engaged in any kind of criminal activity — Ed wasn’t, I wasn’t — and then try to entrap them into a situation.

“And at the same they use somebody as a decoy “ —Ford may be indicating “Tennessee Waltz” witness and go-between Tim Willis here, as well as Cooper — “who has committed several felonies. They hold the charges, and, in the end, they don’t charge them. They say, ‘They helped us.’ To get somebody else who isn’t even engaged in a crime.”

“I think for certain they targeted Democrats"

"I know a lot who should have been targeted who weren’t targeted. They’re still serving. They did things of their own volition, not when somebody set ‘em up.”

It should be noted, of course, that the famous money-counting video used at Ford’s Tennessee Waltz trial — one that quickly went viral — was but one piece of evidence, including other videos and audios and numerous witness testimonies, introduced by the government at the trial.

Nevertheless, the bottom line is that Ford is stoutly maintaining his innocence, and, though he doesn’t use — at least in any of our conversations — any variant of the word “frame,” that seems to be precisely what he’s suggesting. And what would be the motive?

Ford’s answer would seem to depend on the fact that “Tennessee Waltz” and other governmental-corruption trials occurred on the watch of the Bush-era Justice Department.

“I think for certain they targeted Democrats. Who had a lot of power, Democrats in particular who were black who had a lot of power.” As for Republicans — and Democrats — who were conservative, “They didn’t bother with them. I know a lot who should have been targeted who weren’t targeted. They’re still serving. They did things of their own volition, not when somebody set ‘em up.”

Ford is bitter toward the lawyer who represented him in the “Tennessee Waltz” case, Michael Scholl, an attorney listed by the Memphis Business Quarterly as “among the best” in the field of criminal law.

John Ford would include Scholl in a list of “lawyers that ought not be practicing.” Ford insists he was not well served. “I know I wasn’t, locally. I’m so damned mad at him, all that money I spent on him. Altogether, I spent about $700,000. I haven’t spoken to him in six years.”

Among Scholl’s failures on his behalf, Ford says, was his reluctance to pursue the issue of entrapment as a defense, even though, according to Ford, presiding U.S. District Judge Daniel Breen had “given him an out” with his definition of the term.

"You come out against them, they‘ll do whatever they can."

There had been a second federal trial for Ford, one for “official corruption” that was conducted in Nashville and was based on allegations that Ford took some $800,000 from out-of-state medical and dental providers to secure TennCare contracts that he, as chairman of the Senate General Welfare, Health, and Human Resources Committee, could influence.

Ford, who insisted he had merely served as a legal consultant under the then prevailing legislative rules, was convicted in 2008 and was sentenced for an additional 14 years, but he aggressively pursued an appeal. And, as he says, “it took 33 months, we took it all the way to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. They ruled that no crime was committed, and they vacated the conviction.”

(More precisely, the Appeals Court ruled that no offense had been committed over which the federal courts had jurisdiction.)

"They were going to fence me in. It was overkill.”

Ford is convinced the Nashville trial had taken place only as a judicial fail-safe of sorts. “They only did that because they didn’t know what was going to happen with this other one [the Tennessee Waltz trial]. They were going to fence me in. It was overkill. They set you up and then try to overkill you on something else.”

Pending the end of his probation, Ford had been reticent about going public with his accusations against the legal system.

“I don’t know this for a fact, but it’s what I believe,” he told me. “These federal judges and cops and juries and all that, they’re a clique. They stick together. You come out against them, they‘ll do whatever they can. They say ‘Okay, he’s going to play, we’re going to keep him on that.’ If they wanted to, any little thing, any aberration, they could say that’s a violation, and it might not be.”

Further: "That’s why they have probation, to keep your butt quiet for a year or two. Boom! Everybody that goes to prison — federal, county, state, whatever level, — are not there because they committed a crime or because they’re criminals. It’s because the system wanted them there!”

On the town again
  • JB
  • On the town again
And more in that vein about the bind he felt encased in during his probation period: “You have freedom of speech, but you’re limited. You say something against a judge or a prosecutor or something like that, they can get you. They can say ‘boom boom’ and take your freedom away.

“What you say can and will be held against you. What you say may not be pleasing to them, it’ll be derogatory. They’ll cop an attitude so quick. They’ll try to find something. It ain’t gotta be right. If the judge goes along with it, boom!

“I know it. I’ve seen it. .You don’t have to do anything that’s wrong to go to prison. A lot of folks who were down there where I was, we talked. They didn’t commit a crime. They hadn’t done any crime. They lost their cases like I did. They couldn’t out-gun the government. But I did in the end, though didn’t I?”

"Out-gunning the government"

There’s no doubting from all the foregoing that John Ford, who felt muzzled during the whole of his probation period, now has his muzzle off. Again, there’s more of the same — much more — in “Waiting for Godot with John Ford” in the April issue of Memphis Magazine.

One of the several additional matters dealt with in that article is that of what the former state Senator foresees as his political future from here on in. The filing deadline for state and federal offices is just around the calendar, on April 3, and it remains to be seen if a remark Ford made during our conversations has any specific relevance to that future.

I had asked Ford to verify that 9th District congressman Steve Cohen had been instrumental in getting him domiciled in the close-to-home Yazoo City facility where he had done most of his time.

Ford acknowledged that might have been the case, inasmuch as he’d taken up the matter with Randy Wade, then serving as Cohen’s district field representative.

"You say something against a judge or a prosecutor or something like that, they can get you. They can say ‘boom boom’ and take your freedom away!"

One of the political realities of the moment is that Cohen and Wade have parted ways, with the latter now serving as a cadre in the congressional campaign of Cohen’s declared Democratic Party primary foe, lawyer Ricky Wilkins.

And Ford made the following remark, which seemed somewhat gratuitous in the context of the conversation:

“I’m dedicated and committed to the people that elected me. A lot of the public officials are not committed to anybody but themselves. They know who they want to be: mayor, congressman, etc., but they don’t know who they are. They’re just getting all the greed and glamor out of it.

“Like when Isaac Hayes died, the first thing Cohen did was run out there and say, wouldn’t it be nice if we named this or that for Isaac Hayes? I mean, how stupid can you be? He [Cohen] already had part of the expressway named after him [Hayes] when he was in the Senate.

“He runs over there, using Isaac Hayes as a trophy so he can exhibit himself to black people. We need a black to represent us, not because we’re prejudiced, but just because we want our own to be there. Know what I’m saying?”

(This account is the tip of the iceberg. To see more about what John Ford is saying, and more about what he intends to do now, read “Waiting for Godot with John Ford,” in the April issue of Memphis Magazine).

Comments (35)

Showing 1-25 of 35

39-16-103. Public servant guilty of bribery offense disqualified from holding office.

(a) Every person who is convicted under § 39-16-102 of accepting or receiving any gift, promise, benefit, or gratuity, as an executive, legislative, or judicial officer, shall forever afterwards be disqualified from holding any office under the laws or constitution of this state.

(b) Any person who is convicted after February 15, 2006, of an offense in another state or under federal law that would constitute a violation of § 39-16-102 if committed in this state shall be, from the date of such conviction, forever disqualified from holding any office under the laws or constitution of this state.

(c) If at the time of conviction for an offense specified in this section, the person still holds an office under the laws or constitution of this state, the provisions of this section shall apply to such person at the end of the person's term of office, unless otherwise removed or expelled as provided by law prior to that time.

HISTORY: Acts 1989, ch. 591, § 1; 2006 (1st Ex. Sess.), ch. 1, § 48.

Not sure the date of Mr. Ford's conviction, but if it was for conduct that would constitute a violation of TCA 39-16-102 (bribery), and the conviction came after February 15, 2006, he won't be able to run for state office. By the way, the state statute of limitation for this offense is eight years. Mr Ford may have started talking just a tad too soon.

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Posted by Drift Boat on 03/23/2014 at 5:08 AM

Michael Scholl kept John Ford from spending 50+ years in jail. What an ungrateful jerk. John Ford never paid a bill in his life, I'm certain he never paid anybody $700k. Always lying!

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Posted by tnbs on 03/23/2014 at 8:17 AM

About 2 million people are in prisons right now...Every one of them are innocent...just ask them.

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Posted by Jim Donahue on 03/23/2014 at 10:00 AM

The entire Fo family is crooked.

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Posted by JuliusJones on 03/23/2014 at 11:13 AM

I adore the Ford family. They're so kind and thoughtful.

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Posted by Dave Clancy on 03/23/2014 at 12:44 PM

Dave,
And entertaining too...at least for those of us who no longer live in Memphis.

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Posted by Drift Boat on 03/23/2014 at 1:07 PM

I moved to Memphis for 2 reasons: The Ford family, and knifings outside the Paradiso. Needless to say, I'm a happy Memphian.

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Posted by Dave Clancy on 03/23/2014 at 2:01 PM

Dude has conviction for politics.

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Posted by tomguleff on 03/23/2014 at 2:55 PM

John Ford may not get elected to statewide office, but, he still has plenty of power in the Memphis community.

Is he also barred from running for city council or county commission?

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 03/23/2014 at 4:43 PM

Ford is a disgrace to the human race.He abused the public trust and embarassed Memphis and his constituents for decades enriching himself and leading an over the top life style.He should still be in prison.No good will come from his further existence in the free world.

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Posted by memphonian on 03/23/2014 at 6:55 PM

Where did a bum p o s like him get 700k for his lawyer in the first place?

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Posted by Datsit on 03/23/2014 at 7:09 PM

Memphonian

I love your passion and you make good sense. Now, let us take a look, Ford committed a crime. His crime was taking money that was voluntarily given to him by people who could afford it. He didn't take money from the pockets of his poor constituents or take food off of the table of poor people. Hell he didn't even deny poor and mostly elderly people the few dollars they get once a year to help them pay for high utility bills in the winter. Of course, the republicans have done all of those things.

We had a president that caused the deaths and wounding and crippling of thousands of American's finest, all built around a lie. We won't even count the hundred thousand or more Iraqis killed. Of course, the CIA special report will come out shortly showing that G. W. Bush signed off on torture, kidnapping, murder and waterboarding. All of these things are world wide crimes against humanity. Heck, we hanged a many Germans and Japanese for the same things. But of course, G. W. Bush was no criminal, was he?

Yes, Ford is guilty of a crime, but shouldn't all criminals be wiped off of the face of the earth as you wrote? Jack Abramhoff, a gop operative, got many, many millions compared to John Ford's measly few thousand. He got less time, appears on TV regularly, wrote a book and is a celebrity. Only in America, equal justice for all (lol)

I don't condone what Ford did, however, I don't condone what the others, which was much worse, did, Let's agree to punish them all, equally. How about it?

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 03/23/2014 at 9:50 PM

You know what this tune needs? That's right baby!

MORE COWBELL!!!

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Posted by Hadji on 03/23/2014 at 11:15 PM

He is just plain delusional. In Memphis the name "Ford" is synonymous with corruption and with the racial hatred and bitterness of the people who continued to elect him. If there was any justice in this case, he would still be sitting in a prison cell.

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Posted by Chris in Midtown on 03/24/2014 at 7:30 AM

Old time player
Ford used the bedrock of our society ,government,to pervert democracy and sellout his people and sell out for his own http://interests.he/ knows one master .... Money and did whatever necessary to get it.Nothing worse than corrupt government official.And the infedility and cars,watches,wines,and Super fly show was a terrible example to young people.Case closed! Vermon!

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Posted by memphonian on 03/24/2014 at 8:12 AM

Memphonian

Tell me exactly what Ford did to sell out his people? He never voted against anything that would benefit his constituents. Yes, sold his vote for things that would have no negative effect on his people.

As far as politicians using the bedrock of our society to screw people, you whites have done that and are still doing it for over 200 years. Anytime they do something, they would just pass a law not making it a crime.

Go any where in Ford's district and say those things. If you dare to, please have your running shoes on and leave your engine running. The people in a political district are the ones who decides what is unacceptable, not you or I. That is why we have a democratic republic.

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 03/24/2014 at 9:09 AM

All anyone needs to know about John Ford and the current state of racism in Memphis:

“He [Steve Cohen] runs over there, using Isaac Hayes as a trophy so he can exhibit himself to black people. We need a black to represent us, not because we’re prejudiced, but just because we want our own to be there. Know what I’m saying?”

-- John Ford

John Ford is nothing more than a convicted felon, an ingrained irascible racist and a money grabbing grifter who is so phony and transparent that anyone, no matter how large or small their brain capacity is, should be able to see right through him.

"Know what I'm saying?"

It seems that John Felon Ford is setting the stage for another ride aboard the old Public Service Grift & Gravy Train, to me. And sadly for many of his constituents, he'll probably be blowing that corrupt choo-choo whistle much sooner than later.

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Posted by Nightcrawler on 03/24/2014 at 3:56 PM

Say what you will about your case, but leave Mike Scholl out of it. He is a top-notch criminal defense attorney and one hell of a trial lawyer.

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Posted by Publius on 03/24/2014 at 4:40 PM

When you people that, either don't live in Memphis or in the district where Ford resides, get through with all of your rants, it is the people in Ford's district that sets the moral standard for holding office. That drunk, gun toting, reckless driver of a state rep is an example of what I am talking about (Curry Todd). Hell, I don't approve, but, it is left up to his district as to whether they want him or not.

This is a case of different cultures; one looks at it as a hideous crime, while the other looks at it as a smart black man taking money from whitey and in doing so does not harm his constituents. They will tell you , more power to him.

Prison has not diminished Ford's power in his community. It is the same as Martha being sent to prison. Punishment? Hell, she made another 900 million while she sat in prison. If you people think that a Martha Stewart, a billionaire, had a hard time in prison, you are crazy. Ford, with his power, the same.

You people are really stupid!

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 03/24/2014 at 5:25 PM

Posted by tnbs:

"Michael Scholl kept John Ford from spending 50+ years in jail. What an ungrateful jerk. John Ford never paid a bill in his life, I'm certain he never paid anybody $700k. Always lying!"
-------------------------------------------

You're very likely right on that one. He probably owes Mr. Scholl a whole lot of money for his services.

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Posted by JuliusJones on 03/24/2014 at 5:34 PM

JuliusJones

That is what defense lawyers are supposed to do.

I didn't hear you complain when Leslie Balin Jr. got his client off for shooting her husband in the back with a shotgun while he was sleeping.

Why the double standard, oh, I forgot, she was white!

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Posted by oldtimeplayer on 03/24/2014 at 7:02 PM

John Ford and Judge Joe Brown can form the Narcissist Party, but there is only room for one of them.

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Posted by cpcobb on 03/26/2014 at 4:57 PM

Lets get one thing stright John Ford can still run for office the law came about after his conviction to those who think they know, And John is right on alot of what he is saying if the FED's want you they can lock you up,the average person doesnt have the money to fight a US atty who has unlimited funds to make a case against you ,get in a jam and see how these lawyers show no concern for you unless you got alot of cash , Ford money had dried up so he settle on the best legal defense he could get , his mistake letting someone lure him into making easy ,John Ford was convicted but the sentence was to long maybe a year or two , the higher up you go the bigger the target you are , Like most comments on here is allways laced with racist remarks i chalk that up to just plain ignorance !

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Posted by FREE Your Mind on 03/30/2014 at 10:51 AM

From the above article:
"A key matter, of course, was the substance of the federal government’s case against Ford in the case that resulted in his conviction for bribery in Memphis in 2007 and a prison term of four-plus years, largely served in the low-security federal facility at Yazoo City, Mississippi."

From the Tennessee Code.
"(b) Any person who is convicted after February 15, 2006, of an offense in another state or under federal law that would constitute a violation of § 39-16-102 if committed in this state shall be, from the date of such conviction, forever disqualified from holding any office under the laws or constitution of this state."

The statute in question became law (signed by the Governor) February 15, 2006.
Did Jackson get the year of Mr. Ford's conviction wrong? I wasn't living in Memphis then and I really don't remember the date.

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Posted by Drift Boat on 03/30/2014 at 12:09 PM

2007 & 2008 were the years Ford was convicted on Federal felony charges. The 2008 convictions were overturned on appeal. It was ruled the Feds didn't have jurisdiction. Doesn't mean he didn't do the bad deeds, just that the Feds didn't have jurisdiction. Maybe, he should have been tried on State charges. ... dunno???

- In April 2007 he was convicted on Federal bribery charges.

- Ford was convicted in 2008 in federal court in Nashville for failing to disclose payments he accepted from contractors with TennCare, the state’s expanded Medicaid program, while promoting their interests in the legislature.

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Posted by JuliusJones on 03/30/2014 at 12:30 PM
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