Was Former Sundquist Official Participant or Pawn? - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NewsChannel 5 Investigates: Friends in High Places

Was Former Sundquist Official Participant or Pawn?

(Story created: 5/18/04)

Was a former Sundquist administration official a conniving person who betrayed the public trust or just a pawn of those who had friends in high places?

Those were the contrasting images presented to a Nashville federal court jury as the first case from our investigation of insider contracts went to trial.

On trial is Joanna Ediger, who was a mid-level official in Sundquist's Labor Department.

Ediger walked to Nashville's federal courthouse, with her freedom and future about to be turned over to a jury of 12.

"She has entered a plea of not guilty," her lawyer, Jack Lowery, said as the day began. "Today, the trial is set and we are here ready to go to trial."

Inside the courtroom, prosecutor Zach Fardon described the case as a "betrayal of public trust."

He added, "Joanna Ediger was a public servant who betrayed the public she was supposed to serve... to put taxpayer money into her own pocket."

At issue: a $2 million, no-bid contract with Workforce Strategists, a Chattanooga company that was supposed to provide counseling for the unemployed.

Prosecutors said Ediger wrote a memo, claiming it was the only company in Tennessee that had experience for the job.

But the prosecutor told jurors, "Joanna Ediger was lying. At the time, she wrote those memos this company for all practical purposes did not exist."

Ediger's lawyer Jack Lowery countered by comparing the contract to a train -- propelled by the relationship between Sundquist and Workforce's owner John Stamps.

Lowery said deputy governor Wendell Moore initiated the contract talks.

He said, "This train was moving before Joanna Ediger got involved.... This contract train was destined to go the minute the deputy governor made that call."

The relationship between Sundquist and Stamps provides a fascinating backdrop to the case.

Late Tuesday, Sundquist's labor commissioner Mike Magill told jurors that Stamps would just walk in on top-level meetings with the governor and join the conversation.

In a tantalizing clue, prosecutors said there would be testimony about a proposed $10 million state contract off which Stamps would personally have pocketed $1 million.

Ediger faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.

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