Waiting Game

As the Tennessee Waltz stalls, star witnesses make movies and buy homes.


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After Roscoe Dixon's sentencus interruptus last week, television reporter Mike Matthews asked the former senator how he was holding up financially. Dixon admitted he was feeling some strain and joked that Matthews might want to buy him lunch.

While Tennessee Waltz defendants are feeling the strain, cooperating witnesses are feeling no pain. Foremost among them are Tim Willis and Darrell Catron, who have been living large since they began cooperating with the FBI in 2003.

Catron, who lost his job in the Tennessee Waltz scandal and an inexpensive house to foreclosure, bought a new, $265,000 house in April, according to public records. Catron could not be reached for comment. U.S. attorney David Kustoff would not discuss whether Catron, who lost his county job in 2001, is being paid by the FBI.

Catron's friend and partner in crime, Tim Willis, has been getting at least $6,000 a month plus expenses from the FBI, according to testimony in Dixon's trial. Secretly recorded videotapes played at the trial showed the natty Willis driving an expensive car and entertaining Dixon and other visitors at his home in Harbor Town. Willis, who went undercover posing as a lobbyist for the sham company E-Cycle Management, has even been making an indie movie about his adventures.

Well, undercover work is tough, potentially dangerous (serious or not, John Ford can be heard on a secret tape threatening to kill Willis if he double-crosses him), and requires a high degree of skill. Willis has shown his chops on tape and on the witness stand. We'll see about Catron.

But the contrast between the lifestyles of cooperating witnesses and stonewalling defendants is stark. Dixon had to give up a $100,000 a year job as an assistant to Shelby County mayor A C Wharton. Senator Ward Crutchfield of Chattanooga gave up a job last year as attorney for the Hamilton County school board that, according to secret audiotapes, paid him $150,000 a year. John Ford gave up his Senate seat and lost his license to sell insurance. Kathryn Bowers gave up her Senate seat and was arrested for DUI this summer. Michael Hooks Sr. resigned from the Shelby County Commission and appeared abject as he changed his plea to guilty. His son, Michael Hooks Jr., faces trial and has blown a once promising career as a consultant. All of the defendants face mounting legal bills and prison sentences if convicted.

Catron, on the other hand, has not been sentenced, and Willis, who previously did prison time on a credit-card conviction, is a free man after he finishes testifying.

Dixon will be sentenced October 13th. Judging from the large number of Dixon supporters, feds, and audio-visual specialists in the courtroom at last week's aborted session, both sides are preparing to do some rehashing, even if it is unlikely to influence super-attentive U.S. district judge Jon McCalla. Next up, on November 6th, is Calvin Williams, charged with extortion and bribery while serving as a county employee. He has promised (threatened?) to write a book about his experiences as a young black Republican activist and former chief administrator for the Shelby County Commission. He now has a low-level county job and is represented by the federal public defender. On his way out of the federal building last month following a court appearance, he vowed, "I will not be a Roscoe Dixon. I wouldn't go to trial if I didn't have a defense."

And the government, we can assume, wouldn't try him if there weren't a case, although the indictment doesn't spell out exactly what he supposedly did. In 2005, he and former Juvenile Court clerk Shep Wilbun were standing outside a courtroom, literally minutes from going to trial on state criminal charges, when the special prosecutor suddenly and inexplicably dropped the case.

The Williams trial could feature Willis in a reprise of his starring role as accuser. Call it "The Clash of Brash" -- the tell-all author Williams facing the tell-all filmmaker Willis. In a Flyer interview before his federal indictment, Williams said he and Willis were friends and business partners at one time but fell out "because [Willis] had too many people with their hands in the cookie jar."

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