LOW COMEDY IN FEDERAL COURT

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When Chattanooga’s Charles Love turned up in federal court in Memphis Tuesday to change his plea to guilty in the Tennessee Waltz matter, he might as well have come straight from Central Casting. Love looked just like what he was charged with for his role in the scandal – a bagman.

Dressed in a literally baggy brown four-button seat with cuffs that buckled low and overflowed onto the floor, Love let his attorney, Brian Hoss, do all the talking for him as the two of them listened to Judge Daniel Breen read from the inductment and, later, assistant U.S. Attorney Tim DiScenza detail portions of the government’s proof against Love.

The reading of the two documents and Love’s appearance together created a scenario that hinted at every sordid thing one could imagine, not only about the specific crimes of bribery and extortion but about the increasingly disgraced Tennessee legislature itself.

Love had after all led the FBI’s make-believe “eCycle” moneybags men to one of the state Senate’s presumed pillars, the venerable Ward Crutchfield, also of Chattanooga, whose legislative influence could be had, he told them, if they had “gifts to bear.”.

And what the courtroom audience learned about Crutchfield, a co-defendant who has (so far) not changed his plea of not guilty, was in some ways more embarrassing to the senator’s reputation than the offenses he was charged with.

Crutchfield, said DiScenza, fastidiously avoided being so gross as take in the eCycle bucks he got and kept asking for with his own hands. He let his unnamed secretary do that, and when the FBI’s “undercover informant” (presumably the now infamous Tim Willis) came inquiring as to whether the main man had got his money, she was instructed to say that bagman Love had been “mighty nice to us today” or “mighty good to use today.” On those occasions when Crutchfield himself was coaxed into saying something for the FBI’s ubiquitous video- and audio-tapes, he acknowledged receipt with words like “Thank you for being my friend.”

Right. Some friends you got there, Senator.

But the tale of ignominy became pure slapstick when DiScenza’s account got around to the part of the sage involving another co-defendant, state Rep. Chris Newton of Cleveland.

It was not just that Newton the sole Republican bagged in the FBI operation, was charged with taking the bottom-dollar sum of $4500 for his promise to expedite legislation favorable to eCycle, it developed that Love had repeatedly skimmed from Newton’s payoffs, sometimes halving them. So the poor shlepper ended up, as compensation for the fate that now awaits him, with roughly enough change to run a bar bill at the downtown Sheraton in Nashville.

Afterward lawyer Hoss met with reporters and assured them, among other things, that despite what they’d heard in court, his suddenly repentant client had “never done anything like this before.”

Right.

Like the other defendants, who include ex- Memphis legislators John Ford and Roscoe Dixon as well as current state Senator Kathryn Bowers, Love was accused with a series of “offenses against the United States.” If Love turns state’s evidence, which seems likely, he might get off light on those charges, but his offenses against credibility will be a little harder to expiate.

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