NewsChannel 5 Investigates: Capitol Hill Corruption
Ford-Connected Company Profits from TennCare
(Story created: 2/11/05)
A NewsChannel 5 investigation first exposed how he spent thousands of dollars in campaign money on the women in his life. Now, a major new development: questions about whether powerful state Sen. John Ford may have profited off TennCare.
When it comes to matters affecting TennCare -- and the hundreds of millions of dollars in it -- government watchdogs say few on Capitol Hill are as powerful as state Senator John Ford.
"He's chairperson of the health and welfare committee and those issues, of course, go through that committee," says Dick Williams of Common Cause.
But Ford's testimony in a child support hearing has raised questions about his ties to a company called Managed Care Services Group -- a topic the senator didn't want to discuss.
"Can we talk to you about some of the sources of income that you have?" NewsChannel 5's chief investigative reporter Phil Williams asks Ford.
"No, you cannot -- personal," the Memphis Democrat replies.
Now, TennCare's dental provider, Doral Dental, confirms it had the Ford-connected company on the payroll to help advise it on state legislation and state contracts.
"Doral did have a consultant agreement with Managed Care Services Group," says Doral spokesman Mike Pflughoeft. "We no longer do. In light of recent developments, we have cancelled our agreement with Managed Care Services Group and Ron Dobbins."
Ron Dobbins is a longtime TennCare figure.
Records not only show Dobbins founded a corporation by the name of Managed Care Services Group, there's also a partnership in which Ford is listed as the general partner.
And the senator's income tax returns, filed in the child custody case, show he pocketed $237,000 in 2002 and 2003 from a company with a similar name, Managed Care Services Group 1.
"Our consulting agreement was with Managed Care Services Group," Pflughoeft adds. "We're unaware of any inappropriate relationship between Managed Care Services Group and Sen. Ford."
Doral says it began investigating after we first inquired about whether Ford had a consulting relationship with the company.
Then, it discovered the company was not properly registered to lobby in Tennessee.
About his source of income, Williams asks Ford, "Do you think taxpayers have a right to know?"
"Nope," he says.
But the government watchdog group Common Cause disagrees.
"It does raise ethical questions," Dick Williams says. "Again, at a minimum, it ought to be disclosed."
In fact, disclosure reports filed by Ford with the Senate's Ethics Committee make no mention of any such business relationship.
"It is a requirement that anything that we receive over $5,000 income from, we have to disclose that on the forms," says Ethics Committee Chairman Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville.
But Ramsey says the Senate's own watchdog committee can consider the issue only if someone files a sworn complaint against Ford.
Dick Williams adds, "It is the public's business what economic interests public officials have -- especially if they are clearing tied to the legislation they are working on."
As for the senator's defense, right now, he's not offering one.
TennCare's contracts prohibit providers from contracting with any state official.
Doral says, as far as it knew, they were only dealing with Dobbins.
The company won a $5 million contract two years ago -- it says -- fair and square.
But former TennCare director Rusty Seibert tells NewsChannel 5 that it was not uncommon for Senator Ford to attempt to intervene to protect TennCare companies associated with Mr. Dobbins.
TennCare officials issued a statement saying:
"The TennCare Bureau will investigate allegations of contractual violations between the Bureau and its contractors. Our contract oversight staff, and other appropriate agencies, if needed, will look into this and any other possible violation reported to us. We have been in contact with other regulatory agencies to determine appropriate oversight authority into this and will ensure our contracts are being followed properly."