NewsChannel 5 Investigates: Friends in High Places
Ediger Hit With Three-Year Prison Term
(Story created: 2/14/05)
The first person indicted from our Friends in High Places investigation of state contracts is headed to prison. A federal judge sentenced former Sundquist official Joanna Ediger to three years behind bars.
Joanna Ediger left the federal courthouse after her lawyers lost their battle for probation, arguing that her 6-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter needed their mother.
"We're disappointed that she ended up with a sentence of three years, but at the same time it's less than half of what the government was asking," said Ediger attorney Jack Lowery.
A mid-level appointee in Sundquist's Labor Department, Ediger was convicted on fraud charges for rigging a $2 million, no-bid state contract for Workforce Strategists.
The Chattanooga company was supposed to help the unemployed get back to work.
It was started by John Stamps, a longtime friend of former Gov. Don Sundquist.
"This is one of the worst abuses of government that you see," said prosecutor Zach Fardon.
Prosecutors pointed to a memo, first uncovered by NewsChannel 5, in which she claimed Workforce Strategists was the only company that had experience for the job.
In fact, it did not even exist until it got your money.
"This is an important crime to prosecute and vindicate on behalf of the taxpayers," Fardon added.
U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell told Ediger that "government officials need to hear the reverberating clang of the cell door behind them to deter others from engaging in this kind of conduct."
Still, he could have sent her away for six years.
"I think the bottom line is the sentence he gave reflects the fact that Joanna Ediger is not the most responsible person in all of this," said another Ediger lawyer, Kim Hodde.
As for the governor's friend, John Stamps, he's met with investigators since Ediger's conviction.
Still, prosecutors are tight-lipped about where that all might lead.
"The investigation is active and ongoing," Fardon said. "We are going to keep doing what we are doing and follow the facts where they lead us."
Ediger chose not to address the court.
Her attorneys say they still believes she has a good chance of having the case overturned on appeal -- and they did not want her to say anything that might compromise her claims of innocence.
Judge Campbell agreed to recommend that the U.S. Bureau of Prisons send Ediger to the Alderson Federal Prison Camp in the mountains of West Virginia.
That's the all-female facility -- dubbed "Camp Cupcake" -- where Martha Stewart is currently serving her sentence.