BY JACKSON BAKER | JULY 12, 2007
Unless Michael Hooks Jr. holds to his resolve and stands trial for his role in the Tennessee Waltz saga and somehow overcomes, the FBI will shortly end up with a perfect record of convictions for the several defendants who have been indicted in the sting since May 2005. That was the situation Thursday - after Chattanooga state Senator Ward Crutchfield pleaded guilty in federal court here to accepting a gratuity (i.e., a bribe) and former Memphis state Senator Kathryn Bowers let it be known she, too, would cop a guilty plea on Monday.
Looking glum and sounding taciturn but making an effort to be chipper despite it all, Crutchfield appeared in Judge Daniel Breen's 11th floor courtroom at 1:30 p.m. and allowed as how he would accept responsibility and plead guilty to Count 2 of his multi-count indictment - accepting $3,000 on February 15, 2005 in the presence of FBI undercover agent Joe Carroll (who posed as E-Cycle executive Joe Carson) and bagman Charles Love, one of several Waltz defendants already convicted.
Lead prosecutor Tim DiScenza was unusually restrained and seemed almost solicitous as he acknowledged to Judge Breen that the government was satisfied with the partial plea. Nor did he quarrel with the terminology favored by Crutchfield and his lead attorney, William Farmer of Nashville. Gratuity or bribe, by whatever name it was called, it was still a felony, and the 78-year-old Crutchfield will have to do some time.
The veteran senator had owned up to his age somewhat grudgingly when Breen gave him the standard catechism administered to all plea-changers. And his vanity surfaced at least once more when, after owning up to a question about one of his academic degrees he insisted on detailing all the others he had acquired in a distinguished career that now, at its nether end, had turned unexpectedly sour.
Aside from that, and another burst or two of garrulity in court, Crutchfield was diffidence itself. Upon arriving at the federal building, he answered reporters' questions about the case with a single word: hot - presumably a comment on the weather, which was in the mid-90s at the time.
He was just as tight-lipped on his way out of court, answering questions with shrugs or monosyllables or not at all. When someone asked him what he intended to tell his wife when he saw her next, back in Chattanooga, Crutchfield deadpanned, 'Hon, I'm home.'
Other questions were handled by Farmer on is client's behalf. Asked to define gratuity, the lawyer answered with a thin smile, It's a tip. He was less flippant when he fielded a question directed to Crutchfield concerning the likelihood of his still being in the state Senate when the legislature reconvenes in January.
I can say that he won't, said Farmer sadly. Meanwhile, his client is scheduled for sentencing on Wednesday, November 28, the week after Thanksgiving.