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On the Dixon and Hooks Sentences

Everyone’s wondering who’s next in Tennessee Waltz and Main Street Sweeper.

Who else did Joe Cooper give up? Who did Michael Hooks give up to get such lenience? Did Roscoe Dixon drop any names before he checked into prison? And so on.

Going on two years after the first Tennessee Waltz indictments were handed up, this seems clear:

First, talk is cheap, but federal prosecutors are going to make a political corruption case against someone when they have tapes – preferably both audio and videotapes and preferably of more than one incriminating meeting.

Second, cooperation and taking blame pays big time. And going to trial, testifying, and publicly questioning the government’s case will cost you big time.

Tapes made by undercover cooperating witnesses Tim Willis and Cooper nailed Dixon, Hooks, John Ford, Kathryn Bowers, Edmund Ford, and Rickey Peete. The names of several other Memphis politicians and developers have come up, but none of them has been indicted. It’s a lot easier to convince a jury and the general public when you have pictures and tapes of money changing hands. A paper trail combined with the testimony of convicted felons like we saw in the 1993 trial of Harold Ford Sr. doesn’t cut it these days. The government lost that case.

If you’re not on tape, you might escape.

On the second point, Hooks got 26 months while Dixon got 63 months. The offenses are more alike than different. Both took money for influence from representatives of the fictional E-Cycle Management company. In fact, Hooks took over $24,000, while Dixon only got $9,500, some of which he gave away. Neither man had a criminal record.

So what’s the difference?

Dixon went to trial, lied to the FBI in a last-chance interview, and testified falsely on the witness stand. He consistently said he was trapped and selectively targeted. He was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Jon McCalla.

Hooks pleaded guilty. He blamed himself. He was woeful, abject, remorseful, self-critical, unflinching before the media. He asked only his attorney, Steve Farese, to plead for lenience at his sentencing. He is the nephew of esteemed former judge and civil rights leader Benjamin Hooks, who was in court Wednesday. He was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Daniel Breen.

Conclusion: Exercising your right to trial by jury, as thousands of violent criminals do at public expense each week, can cost you in a political corruption case. It can cost you financially and cost you in terms of prison time.

Sentencing guidelines are just that, guidelines, and McCalla is a harsher sentencer than Breen, at least in this context.

Finally, there is no constitutional foundation for this, but it pays to say you’re sorry, really really sorry. Comparing the sentences of Dixon and Hooks, Dixon got an extra three years – more time that Hooks’ entire sentence – not because he committed a more serious crime or had a different criminal history but because he exercised his constitutional right and did not say he was sorry, or at least not as convincingly as Michael Hooks did. This should be food for thought for ordinary law-abiding Memphians as well as Rickey Peete and Edmund Ford and the rest.

By John Branston

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