Skip to comments.Long road led to Ford's judgment
Posted on 08/27/2007 7:32:23 AM PDT by SmithL
She knew this day would come, when her notorious ex-husband would stand before a judge and face the cold bars of prison.
Convicted of bribery, former state senator John Ford could get up to 10 years in a federal penitentiary when he's sentenced this afternoon by U.S. District Judge J. Daniel Breen.
Still, it comes as a shock to Tamara Mitchell-Ford, who married her mercurial husband at the height of his success.
"You had a man in a position of power that abused it,'' said Mitchell-Ford.
John Ford was power personified. The very name chilled backs and tightened guts in Nashville, where Ford bullied, schmoozed and finessed his opponents. He sat on three powerful committees over three decades in the Tennessee
Senate, and he generally got whatever he wanted.
That's gone now. After he's sentenced today, Ford must get up in the morning and go back to Nashville, where he faces another hearing involving separate corruption charges. He's accused there of concealing $800,000 in kickbacks. Contending he lacks funds to hire a lawyer, he's represented by a public defender.
Once a consultant who leveraged his political connections into a $356,000-a-year income, Ford, now 65, sees his world crumbling under the weight of legal woes, including a lawsuit by his ex-wife.
Mitchell-Ford is suing for child support. In itself, that's not surprising -- Ford's been sued by others for the same thing before -- yet the venue is unusual. Lacking resources to hire a lawyer, Mitchell-Ford has taken her case to Shelby County Juvenile Court, a venue generally reserved for poor children.
She, too, sees her once-comfortable life unraveling. Her house is in foreclosure, she says, and her South Carolina family has cut off support. A recovering alcoholic, Mitchell-Ford said the state took temporary custody of her children last week following a domestic disturbance.
With Ford's income eaten up by other child support orders and possibly about to dry up altogether while he's in prison, she fears there may be nothing left to support the couple's four children.
"What's going to happen to his legitimate children? They're going to be wards of the state,'' a distraught Mitchell-Ford said last week.
"Did I love him? You're damn right I did. Do I still love him? Yes. But not in the same way.''
John Ford's family law attorney, Edward M. Bearman, said Mitchell-Ford is over-dramatizing.
"His kids are being taken care of, and he will continue to do everything within his power to take care of them,'' Bearman said.
Ford's criminal defense lawyer, Michael Scholl, conceded, however, that his client will be hard pressed to support his children from prison.
"Any sentence that he receives will place a tremendous strain on his ability to care for any of his children,'' said Scholl. "For the government to come at you from so many different directions, it would strain anybody.''
Scholl's more immediate concern involves just how much time his client spends in prison. Neither the defense nor prosecutors will discuss details of a confidential presentence report, but indications are the report calls for a stiff sentence.
"There's a large disparity about what our positions are. Obviously there's going to be a lot of argument about what the sentence should be,'' Scholl said.
Legal experts told the newspaper that Ford faces as little as four and as many as 10 years in prison. Although Ford has no previous convictions, many judges take a particularly dim view of bribery.
"It (bribery) undercuts the very premise of democracy,'' explained University of Mississippi law professor Ron Rychlak.
A jury convicted Ford in April of taking $55,000 in cash in the FBI's undercover Tennessee Waltz bribery sting. Videos played at trial showed Ford stuffing stacks of $100 bills into his pockets and bragging of his prowess over state contractors, government officials and women.
Under a legal principle called relevant conduct, a judge may give a harsher sentence based on criminal allegations for which the defendant was never charged or convicted. Legal papers filed by Scholl make it clear the presentence report includes discussions of the pending Nashville criminal case against Ford and a separate allegation -- for which he's never been charged -- that a developer once gave him a $70,000 Rolex wristwatch in exchange for his official influence.
Ford's road to the Tennessee Waltz was long and winding, passing first through his family's funeral home, where the Memphis Democrat and his siblings first sprang to political power in the 1970s, and later into the smoky bars and restaurants around Nashville's Legislative Plaza.
There, Ford's dealings with lobbyists and special interests were legendary.
It was in Nashville that then Tamara Mitchell met Ford. From a political family herself -- her father was a powerful state senator in South Carolina -- she was serving a legislative internship while a student at Fisk University when she saw Ford at a reception and fell in love.
They married in 1991 in a private ceremony officiated by then-Lt. Gov. John Wilder. She was 26 -- 22 years Ford's junior.
"He's smart. He's intelligent. I was attracted to the fact that he's exceptional in articulating the law and authoring the law,'' recalled Mitchell-Ford, now 43.
But things soon got rocky. In 1995, Mitchell-Ford called police to her home, alleging Ford had beaten her. A year later, Ford watched as his wife and a female rival wrestled on the floor of the Shelby County Courthouse. In 2001, Mitchell-Ford was arrested for plowing her Jaguar into the home of another rival who'd moved in with her husband.
Even before the couple divorced in 2002, Mitchell-Ford sensed how out of control things had become. Her husband was having children with other women while simultaneously shaping the state's child welfare laws as chairman of the Senate's General Welfare, Health and Human Services Committee.
"He was dismantling family values ... as the chairman of general welfare,'' Mitchell-Ford said. "You're talking about a man who was making laws to protect his procreation out of marriage. And a lot of lawmakers agreed with it.''
Mitchell-Ford still considers her divorce illegal -- the final decree awarded no child custody and no support -- contending it was done as a political favor to her powerful husband. Enraged, she often phones lawyers, reporters and others to curse and bemoan her situation, telling how other women get court-ordered child support from Ford for his illegitimate children while she gets none.
Just off probation after a string of driving convictions, Mitchell-Ford realizes she shares blame for her troubles. Yet she can't help faulting all the lawmakers, businessmen and judges who she says looked the other way over the years while her husband ran amok.
"You had a lot of people in power,'' she said, "that should have done something.''
City councilman Ford at the police station following his 1973 arrest for reckless driving and disorderly conduct after a car chase. Ford told officers they'd be "working on garbage trucks." He pays a $75 fine.
Ford, in a Lexington, Tenn., courtroom in 1991, was accused of firing a pistol at a truck driver on Interstate 40 the previous year. He claimed he was shaking his cell phone. The jury acquits him.
In 1996 Ford is found liable for harassing an employee when he served as County General Sessions Court Clerk. He is ordered to pay $10,000 to Dana Smith, whose daughter he fathered.
Ford is delivered to the Criminal Justice Center after being accused of threatening MLGW workers with a shotgun at his home in 1997. He is given diversion and charges are dismissed.
An FBI undercover agent gives $100 bills to Ford in Miami in 2004. The videos were shown at his trial. The following year he is charged with bribery, extortion and witness intimidation in the Tennessee Waltz sting.
Ford is sworn in before an Ethics Committee meeting in 2005. Senate leaders say they are preparing charges against Ford for taking payments from state contractors. He resigns from the Senate after 31 years. (Staff photos)
FORD'S LEGAL WOES
Former state senator John Ford's legal troubles:
Convicted of bribery in April, Ford, 65, will be sentenced today. He faces up to 10 years in prison.
On Tuesday, Ford heads to a hearing in Nashville, where he's charged with concealing $800,000 in kickbacks.
Ford faces proceedings in October in Juvenile Court, where ex-wife Tamara Mitchell-Ford has sued him for child support.
A licensed insurance agent, Ford is fighting state regulators to keep that license. The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance revoked Ford's license Aug. 20 but agreed to stay the revocation pending appeal.
First Tennessee Bank is suing Ford and trying to collect $59,000 in defaulted loans.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely?
"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." - Manuel II Palelologus
So - it's the gub'mint's fault that this bumb can provide for his (legitimate) children?
Coincidence that the party identification is buried way, way down in the story? I think not.
anyone else notice, Besides Michelle Malkin, that the newies seem unable to determine Mr. Ford’s Party affilation?
guick google, yup
It burns me that this scum bucket Ford still gets
to collect a pension from the state after all this.
Not one word about him being a democRAT. If he were a Republican it would be in very refernece to him.
Regardless of it being local...if he were a Republican it would be in every reference to him.