NewsChannel 5 Investigates: Friends in High Places
Ediger Doesn't Testify, Case Goes to Jury
(Story created: 5/25/04)
Did she act on her own out of greed or was she just an innocent pawn following orders? That's the key question before jurors as they consider federal corruption charges against a former Sundquist administration official.
Joanna Ediger faces charges of fraud, bribery and making false statements.
Federal prosecutors say the former Labor Department official profited from arranging a no-bid state contract for Workforce Strategists five years ago.
The company was run by John Stamps, a close friend of then Governor Don Sundquist.
Ediger's attorney Jack Lowery did not call any witnesses and his client did not take the stand.
But, in closing arguments Lowery told the jury that prosecutors are targeting a woman who only did what she was told.
"This is a poor, pitiful lady with two children who has been indicted and has suffered tremendously," he argued. "This was not her doing. This was done in high places."
Federal prosecutor Zach Fardon told a different story. In his closing argument he argued Ediger was far from an innocent pawn.
"She's not a victim. She's an opportunist. She embraced this atmosphere of corruption so she could personally profit ... She loved it ... She was a shark among sharks," said Fardon.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Matt Ediger, Joanna's husband, released a statement.
"My wife Joanna Ediger faces penalties in this case of up to 30 years in prison and $1 million in fines. I have seen no proof nor do I know of any wrongdoing on the four specific charges against her.
"What I have seen is evidence at many higher levels of government -- both inside the Tennessee Department of Labor and outside the department -- of officials' in-depth involvement and knowledge of the Workforce Strategists contract and pushing it through to approval. Many people at the state at higher levels were also involved with this contract and authorized this contract.
"Joanna had no state government experience coming into her job, but yet was asked to work on this project early on by the leadership of her department. She looked to them for guidance during a time when she was looking to learn her job and the governmental process all at a time when she was pregnant and gave birth to our first child.
"I also have seen a well-educated and experienced American pursue her fair and legal right to hold a job, substantiate that hard work in a competent manner (noted by everyone's testimony) and subsequently compensated for that work performed.
"I am scared for Joanna. I am scared for our two small children ages 2 and 5. I am also confident the jury, reasoning through the lack of evidence against her will find her not guilty on all four counts. We are prayerful for a positive outcome."