Joe Cooper May Have Overplayed His Hand


Did Joe Cooper blow his cover and force the FBI to wrap up their latest political sting operation prematurely?

It seems possible, based on the indictments of Edmund Ford and Rickey Peete released late Tuesday afternoon as they sat in the Memphis City Council chambers voting on measures and doing business as usual.

The indictments include new information not included in the federal criminal complaint that was made public on November 30th. That was the same day, according to the indictments, that Cooper – wired up as usual – met separately with Ford and Peete.

"Rickey Peete met Cooper at Peete's office," the indictment says. "Peete told Cooper that he had been warned that Cooper was cooperating with the authorities and that he did not believe this."

Cooper left $2,500 in the bathroom for Peete anyway, but the FBI pulled the plug later that day. A criminal complaint, according to former United States attorney Hickman Ewing Jr., is used when the government fears that evidence will be destroyed or someone will flee. Given Peete's suspicions, that seems likely in this case. For at least four months, Peete and Cooper had been dealing carefully with each, passing notes and making veiled references to "tips" and "pictures" when discussing payoffs. On top of that, Cooper's reputation for sleazy behavior was well established from his 30-year career in politics, mostly on the fringe. He is cooperating with the FBI in hopes of getting lenience after being arrested for money laundering for drug dealers in his job as a salesman at Bud Davis Cadillac.

The new information involves payments to get Peete and Ford to use their influence to remove John Shepherd as chairman of the board of adjustment, an important zoning board followed closely by developers.

Shepherd, a real estate appraiser who lives in Collierville, said he learned of the scheme to try to replace him this week. The board of adjustment was scheduled to meet Wednesday. — John Branston

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