Friday, July 13, 2007
US: Operation Tennessee Waltz
Crutchfield, the last of five state lawmakers charged in the Tennessee Waltz corruption scandal
State senator expected to change plea to corruption charges
The Associated Press
Last Updated: 7/12/2007 10:41:51 AM
Senator Ward Crutchfield is expected to change his plea today in his federal corruption case.
It's not clear what the Chattanooga Democrat's new plea will be. Neither his attorney, nor a spokeswoman for prosecutors returned calls to The Associated Press this morning.
A hearing is set for this afternoon for Crutchfield to change his plea.
The 78-year-old lawmaker has pleaded not guilty to charges of accepting bribes to help a company called E-Cycle Management change Tennessee law for a business advantage.
The company turned out to be a front for undercover FBI agents. Crutchfield was one of five lawmakers charged in the FBI's Tennessee Waltz case.
He is currently scheduled to go to trial Monday.
His extortion and bribery charges carry a maximum punishment of 25 years in prison and $500,000 in fines, though Crutchfield likely would face a much lighter sentence if convicted.
His plans to change his plea were first reported by the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
The Big Dance
Ward Crutchfield’s trial starts Monday when he faces the music in Operation Tennessee Waltz
by Angela Tant
July 11, 2007
In 2005, the legislative dance floor was filled with some of the biggest movers and shakers in Tennessee politics when Operation Tennessee Waltz began to play itself out.
And in the two years since indictments have been leveled against 11 political officials, the cast of characters has steadily left the dance floor for prison.
On Monday, state Sen. Ward Crutchfield, the Chattanooga area’s biggest Waltzer, will go to trial in Memphis to answer bribery and extortion charges. Should he be convicted, he could serve up to 30 years in prison and ordered to pay up to $500,000 in fines.
Jonathan Farmer, who serves as Crutchfield’s attorney, is keeping tight-lipped about his client’s defense. Several calls placed to Farmer’s Nashville office remained unreturned as of press time Monday.
That means we were unable to discuss with him rumors concerning the senator’s health and whether Crutchfield would take the stand in his own defense.
There has been speculation that the senator’s health has been poor in recent months, yet Crutchfield has continued to serve in the state Senate. Some legal experts have told us that even if Crutchfield has been in poor health, it would not delay a federal trial.
In a Times Free Press report from May, Farmer said he was unconcerned about the prosecution’s success involving other Waltz defendants.
“I don’t think that impacts us at all,” Farmer told TFP reporter Andy Sher. “Senator Crutchfield’s case is different than all those other cases, and he’s maintaining his innocence.”
Bryan Hoss, who serves as Charles Love’s attorney, said his client has been served with a subpoena from Crutchfield’s defense team. Love has pleaded guilty to bribery in connection with the Waltz, and his sentencing is set for August 2.
“He’ll be in Memphis to testify,” Hoss said. “Whether he will actually be called as a witness to testify is up to the prosecution and/or defense.”
Prosecutors are also staying quiet about their strategy. Leigh Anne Jordon, spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Memphis, said she could not comment about the prosecution’s optimism in winning the case compared to other Waltz cases that netted convictions. She also would not speculate about whether prosecutors would call Love to the stand to testify.
The prosecution has been on a successful streak of convictions in Waltz cases.
Crutchfield and Love were indicted in 2005 with nine others in Operation Tennessee Waltz. Others who were swept up in the federal probe included former state Rep. Chris Newton, R-Benton; former Hamilton County Commissioner William Cotton, D-Chattanooga; former state Sen. John Ford, D-Memphis; former state Sen. Roscoe Dixon, D-Memphis; state Sen. Kathryn Bowers, D-Memphis; Barry Myers, of Memphis; former Shelby County administrator Calvin Williams, R-Memphis; Shelby County Commissioner Michael Hooks Sr., of Memphis; and Michael Hooks Jr., of Memphis.
Other than Crutchfield, all but two defendants in the Waltz have pleaded guilty or been convicted by a federal jury.
Newton pleaded guilty to bribery charges and was sentenced to a year in prison; he was released in February. Myers pleaded guilty and has a sentencing hearing set for October 3. Hooks Sr. pleaded guilty to bribery in August 2006. He was sentenced to two years and two months in prison and was ordered to begin serving July 20 at a prison in Montgomery, Alabama.
A federal jury convicted Cotton of conspiracy and attempted extortion in February 2006; he was sentenced to three years in prison and is scheduled for release from a facility in Estill, South Carolina, in January 2009.
Dixon also was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. He is set for release in June 2011 from a federal detention center in Oakdale, Louisiana.
Ford was convicted of bribery in April, and his sentencing is set for July 31.
A jury convicted Williams of bribery in January, and he has been ordered to report to a prison in Memphis on July 31.
Two other cases remain from Tennessee Waltz: a bribery case involving Michael Hooks Jr. and one involving Sen. Bowers, whose case is set for trial in September.
However, there have been hints from officials that more cases from Waltz investigations could be forthcoming.
One theory circulating among legal professionals is that taped evidence, either through video or audio, is incredibly compelling to a jury. Seeing and hearing an elected official on tape will influence a jury’s verdict. Prosecutors in the Ford and Cotton trials relied heavily on video and audiotape when proving their cases.
However, one factor that could prove beneficial to Crutchfield, 78, is the venue in which the trial will be held. Memphis is a Democratic stronghold, and although Ford was convicted of bribery in April, he also was acquitted of three other charges.
Prosecutors hope to prove that Crutchfield obtained money through bribes that influenced legislation he introduced on behalf of E-Cycle, an undercover business set up by the FBI that supposedly specialized in getting and disposing of obsolete electronic equipment, which would be sent outside the country and salvaged. The indictment sets up the following time line:
The U.S. attorney’s office states in the indictment that Love served as a “bag man” for Crutchfield in his dealings with E-Cycle. Prosecutors say contact with E-Cycle began in July 2004, when Love spoke by phone with a company rep and indicated he could deliver money to Crutchfield. That next month, the indictment states, Love met with E-Cycle in Memphis, where he “indicated that if E-Cycle had ‘gifts to bear,’ they would get more attention concerning the legislation which they wished to get passed.” Love told the E-Cycle reps that he would need $15,000 to pay legislators, and that Crutchfield would need more money than others, the indictment states.
According to the indictment, Love and E-Cycle met in September 2004 with Crutchfield in Chattanooga, where Love told Crutchfield that E-Cycle had a bill for which it wanted Crutchfield’s support. Love spoke with E-Cycle the following day and told its rep that it would take “three,” or $3,000, for Crutchfield to support the bill.
A few days later, Love received a $6,500 wire transfer to his bank account from West Tennessee. On that same day, the indictment states, Love met with Crutchfield in Chattanooga and paid him $2,500 on E-Cycle’s behalf. Also that day, it is alleged, Love spoke by phone with an E-Cycle rep and told him that he would be going to Crutchfield’s office, where he would give the money to a staff person.
On September 16, 2004, Love allegedly met with E-Cycle and indicated that he met with Crutchfield two days before and that the senator would sponsor the legislation. He also indicated that he had given Crutchfield $3,000 to support the legislation. Love said Crutchfield would not indicate the money came from E-Cycle and that he gave it to Crutchfield through the senator’s administrative assistant, prosecutors beleive. It was the same day in which Crutchfield met an E-Cycle rep, thanked the man for “being my friend,” and indicated he would co-sponsor the legislation, the indictment states.
The following day, Love spoke by phone with E-Cycle and talked about Crutchfield needing more money, the Indictment States. Later that month, Love told a rep that Crutchfield would need $2,000.
In October 2004, Love allegedly spoke by phone with E-Cycle and told the rep that Crutchfield agreed on the $2,000 payment. Love met with an E-Cycle rep in Memphis on October 12, 2004, and discussed how Crutchfield would be paid, prosecutors state. Love said he would go to the senator’s office and give the money to him via Crutchfield’s secretary in Crutchfield’s presence. The following day, Love and an E-Cycle rep met at Crutchfield’s office in Chattanooga, where Love indicated that he already had given the money to Crutchfield’s secretary. Later that day, Crutchfield allegedly told the E-Cycle rep that “we will do whatever you want us to do.”
In February 2005, prosecutors say Crutchfield met again with an E-Cycle rep and was handed two envelopes, each containing $1,500. Both men discussed how they would deny payments to Crutchfield’s secretary.
Tenn. Lawmaker Pleads Guilty to Bribery
By WOODY BAIRD
The Associated Press
Thursday, July 12, 2007; 10:44 PM
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- A veteran state senator pleaded guilty to bribery Thursday, admitting he took $3,000 in FBI money during a statewide corruption investigation.
Sen. Ward Crutchfield, 78, was one of five current and former state lawmakers charged in the FBI sting code-named Tennessee Waltz, and the only one to remain in office. His trial was scheduled to begin Monday.
In return for the Chattanooga Democrat's guilty plea, a more serious charge of extortion was dropped by federal prosecutors.
"I have read the (plea) agreement, and I accept responsibility," Crutchfield told U.S. Judge J. Daniel Breen.
Defense attorney William Farmer characterized the money that Crutchfield admitted taking as a "gratuity" rather than a bribe.
"They gave him a gratuity _ thanks for all your help _ long after he had already agreed to support this bill," Farmer said outside court.
Crutchfield and former Sen. Kathryn Bowers, D-Memphis, were the last of the Tennessee Waltz lawmakers still facing trial. The others have pleaded guilty or been convicted at trial.
Bowers' attorney, William Massey, said she would plead guilty on Monday.
"She brings this one blemish to the courtroom but a lifetime of good work and a positive history in the community," Massey said. "We hope to convince the judge it's not necessary to punish her severely."
If prison time is ordered, he said, "that's what she'll do. She's strong."
Tennessee Waltz indictments were returned in May 2005, charging the five with taking payoffs from a company called E-Cycle Management, which turned out to be a creation of the FBI.
Farmer said that Crutchfield, who has served in the General Assembly for 31 years, plans to resign "in due time," before the Legislature returns to session in January.
Crutchfield still will be eligible for a $42,000 annual pension because his membership in the state's retirement system predated changes in a law designed to strip benefits from convicted lawmakers.
He faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, though federal guidelines for a first-time offender would call for a much lighter sentence. Sentencing was set for Nov. 28.
The indictment against Crutchfield accused him of splitting $12,000 in bribes with a so-called "bagman" and former lobbyist, Charles Love. Love pleaded guilty and was to testify against Crutchfield at trial.
Prosecutors say the Tennessee Waltz investigation is ongoing.
Pushing through a crowd of reporters and photographers outside the Memphis courthouse, Crutchfield refused to talk about Tennessee Waltz.
"I'm ready to go home to Chattanooga right now," he said.
Crutchfield was first elected to the state House in 1956 and served 14 terms in the Senate. He was Senate Democratic leader for six years until losing a caucus vote about five months before the Tennessee Waltz investigation became public.
"It is our hope that this does not obscure what was a record of noteworthy public service. Senator Crutchfield represented the people of his district with distinction for a very long time," Democratic caucus chairman Joe Haynes said in a statement.
In all, 11 people have been indicted on Tennessee Waltz charges, including several officials in Memphis and Chattanooga. Nine of those charged, including Crutchfield, now stand convicted.
© 2007 The Associated Press
Another Conviction in 'Tennessee Waltz'
June 09, 2006 12:44 PM
Vic Walter Reports:
Grainy videotapes, hundred dollar bills and prominent politicians have made the FBI's Operation Tennessee Waltz a case study in how federal agents investigate public corruption.
A state senator was convicted yesterday, and three more are awaiting trial.
The most prominent of the officials charged is State Senator John Ford, a Democrat, the uncle of Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. (D-TN).
Senator Ford, who has since resigned, has pled not guilty to charges he took $55,000 in bribes from undercover FBI agents posing as businessmen seeking state contracts.
The FBI's "Tennessee Waltz" undercover videotape shows Ford taking $10,000 in hundred dollar bills.
When the agent asks if he wants to count the money, Sen. Ford says, "I ain't trying to count. I trust you."
The tape shows Ford stuffing the first $5,000 in his back pocket. Ford puts the second $5,000 wad of cash in his suit coat.
He is scheduled to go on trial October 2.
A former Democratic State Senator, Roscoe Dixon, was convicted yesterday of extortion conspiracy and taking bribes.
A former Republican State Representative, Chris Newton, is currently serving a one-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to bribery charges growing out of the undercover sting.
The Justice Department reports that between the year 2000 and 2004 there were 3,519 convictions of corrupt federal, state and local public officials.
FBI Special Agent My Harrison on Corruption in Memphis
Memphis - FBI Agent My Harrison has been behind plenty of podiums, usually announcing political indictments.
"I love what I do. I found my dreams, I found my prize." says Harrison.
In front of the Mid South Girl Scout Council, she talked on how scouting led her to law enforcement.
"It taught me values, to set goals and objectives. It taught me to find a dream." says Harrison.
That dream landed her in Memphis, casting an FBI net called "Operation Tennessee Waltz", which brought down powerful politicians for bribery and corruption.
"Those few bad apples who feel they are entitled to compensation other than salaries, yes those few bad apples we do look at. We will continue to do that." she says.
Harrison wants to make Memphis safe for younger generations. Girl Scouts are getting the message behind the police work.
"To help people in danger, to get bad people if they do anything." says 10 year old Laterria McGluen.
They also understand what girl scouting can do.
"I was being disrespectful and all of that. Once I got into Girl Scouts it changed my life. I learned how to be respectful." says 9 year old Jubriya Brown.
It's what My Harrison likes to hear. She's not tipping her hand on what is next with the FBI investigations, but something is in the air.
"Just say, to be continued. The work never ends." says Harrison.
My Harrison says her office works just as hard to disprove corruption allegations as it does to prove them.
Indictments on Parade - Pulse Beats
July 11, 2007
NewsChannel 9 brought us Thursday a story about one Sandra Jones Love, formerly of the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau, being indicted on a theft of property charge.
And who is she, you ask? Why, the ex-wife of Charles Love, the former Hamilton County Board of Education member who pleaded guilty on bribery charges in Operation Tennessee Waltz.
Love was charged with theft of property valued at more than $1,000.
Stan Sewell, the city auditor, told the TV station that he testified against Jones, but did not offer further comment.
Indictments are a funny thing, aren’t they?
Posted by lmurx at 10:01 AM