NewsChannel 5 Investigates: Friends in High Places
Sundquist Friend Indicted for Obstruction of Justice
(Story created: 11/4/04)
A federal grand jury has indicted a close Sundquist friend for allegedly obstructing a state contracts investigation, and another friend of the governor is now talking to investigators. It's the second indictment from our "Friends in High Places" investigation.
In December 2002, agents raided Education Networks of America, hauling away boxes of files and copying computer hard drives.
Their focus: whether the relationship between then Gov. Don Sundquist and ENA founder Al Ganier may have helped the company land millions of dollars in state contracts.
Thursday, a federal grand jury charged Ganier with two counts of obstruction of justice, for allegedly trying to destroy e-mail and computer files that investigators were seeking.
Ganier's attorney calls it "plan B" in a stalled investigation.
"It's a far cry different in bringing charges based on political corruption and inappropriate awarding of contracts and retention of e-mails," Aubrey Harwell tells NewsChannel 5's chief investigative reporter Phil Williams.
As NewsChannel 5 first revealed, the Sundquist administration picked Ganier to oversee a program to connect Tennessee schools to the Internet, then picked his newly formed company over other competitors for almost $200 million in state contracts.
In internal ENA e-mails, Ganier boasted that "our sales efforts are built on ... relationship building for improvements in existing contracts."
The federal grand jury says Ganier deleted related computer files in an effort to "influence, obstruct and impede the investigation.
"Anytime the federal grand jury brings a charge, it's serious," Harwell acknowledged. "By the same token, a charge doesn't necessarily indicate guilt."
Like the case that led to the conviction of former Sundquist Labor Department employee Joanna Ediger, this indictment refers to the role of another Sundquist friend, John Stamps.
It says Stamps -- called "Individual A" -- "had communications with certain high-ranking Tennessee state officials" regarding ENA's contract.
Back in November 2002, Sundquist told Williams, "To the best of my knowledge, I have done nothing that has said to the state, Do this for John Stamps or do this for Al Ganier, period."
Now, NewsChannel 5 has learned that Stamps has been meeting with investigators.
Agents won't discuss what he's saying -- or who he's talking about.
But it could be the next big development in this on-going criminal investigation.
Stamps attorney also isn't talking about his cooperation... or whether a plea deal is in the works.
As for Ganier, he faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.