"Big Dog on the Porch"

The chilling truth is how much worse Roscoe Dixon's corruption could have gotten.

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Superficially, Roscoe Dixon is the most sympathetic of the E-Cycle cast of characters, which may have been a factor in his decision to testify. In their undercover roles, E-Cycle bigwigs "L.C" was a jive-talking dot-com millionaire looking to make another score if E-Cycle became a public company and "Joe Carson" was a befuddled "whatever-it-takes" chief executive. What they knew about legislative process, the environment, or computer recycling you could write on the head of a pin.

On tape, Dixon protégé and bagman Barry Myers came across as a foul-mouthed hustler. Expletives are no longer deleted in trial transcripts, and jurors got a full week of Myers employing the F-word in all its variants, as in, "I want to make some f***in' money!" Cooperating witness Tim Willis learned or had the gift of being able to fake sincerity. So well, in fact, you wondered if he was acting or speaking from the heart when he played the part of the free-spending lobbyist who longed to "be a player."

The Dixon the jury saw on tape was an amalgam of political godfather, long-suffering (and in his mind underpaid) soldier with ambitions to become a general, and corrupt politico with a conscience. He didn't cuss, at least not much. He initially took E-Cycle seriously and made sincere inquiries for them through proper government channels. The financial favors he asked "for Barry" were piddling compared to the $30 million and $250,000 paydays in stock-market funny money envisioned by L.C., Carson, and Willis if Dixon came through. When he took money, he left some on the table, literally, and shared it with family and friends. He had his hand in the cookie jar, but Team E-Cycle was bidding for the jar, the major appliances, the whole kitchen. On the stand and under the gentle questioning of his attorney, he was good old Roscoe, son of Whitehaven, Army soldier, National Guardsman, married to the same woman 25 years.

But jurors also saw, again and again, a sinister side to Dixon that suggested where Myers learned the ropes. Dixon was "predicated" on the entirely real issue of dental care for Tennessee children, which he could influence as head of the TennCare oversight committee. The contortions he went through to distance himself from bribes -- Myers called him "scared of his [expletive] shadow" -- made him look conniving as well as guilty. He lied to himself and others, including FBI agents, in a taped interview two weeks before he was indicted.

If Dixon learned a few things about trial preparation and the potential benefits of testifying from Harold Ford Sr., the government has learned a few things too. Prosecutor Tim DiScenza was thorough and methodical. Instead of hitting the jury with details at the start of the trial, as prosecutors did in the Ford trial, he brought out his big guns -- Myers, Willis, Carson, and L.C. -- right away. Then he produced the phone records and bank records and closed all the legal loopholes. Finally, in case jurors had forgotten anything, he called an FBI agent to the witness stand to present a chronological summary of the case. (At Flyer press time, he was cross-examining Dixon.)

What was chilling about the tapes was how much worse it could have been if Willis and Myers had not turned and the government had not acted. Myers was planning to succeed Dixon in the state legislature and even said he had his mentor's office copy of the state seal. None of that Mr. Smith Goes to Washington idealism for Myers. His moral compass was his little black book of dirt on various "niggas" and "white boys." Dixon dreamed of being mayor of Memphis or, to come down a peg, General Sessions Court clerk, with an empire of appointed employees and credit cards. In 2005, he was hired as assistant chief administrative officer by Shelby County mayor A C Wharton, described by Dixon as part of "the network" with him and Ford. As a "big dog on the porch," Dixon had influence over contracts and the dirt on his "big juice" pals, who also had the goods on him, ensuring that the corruption would continue.

Assuming that prosecutors won't rest until going after the supply side as well as the politicians, the Tennessee Waltz is a watershed in Memphis history. Before this week, I figured the government was hoping Dixon would plead guilty. After seeing and hearing the tapes, I believe the Justice Department wanted to try the case and air the dirty laundry in the court of public opinion. A guilty plea would have been open to spin and dissembling.

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