Ford Consulting Income Tops $1 Million - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NewsChannel 5 Investigates: Capitol Hill Corruption

Ford Consulting Income Tops $1 Million

(Story created: 3/8/05)

FIRST ON 5: If someone gave you a million dollars, you'd probably figure they want something in return. So who paid state Sen. John Ford a million dollars -- and what did they want?

It's the latest question uncovered by our NewsChannel 5 investigation -- just as the Senate's ethics committee prepares to take up questions about the powerful Senate chairman.

"I had absolutely no idea that there was a million dollars more of consulting fees," government watchdog Ben Cunningham tells NewsChannel 5's chief investigative reporter Phil Williams.

Cunningham was one of the forces behind what became known as the Tennessee Tax Revolt.

But what we discovered in state Sen. John Ford's tax returns -- more than $300,000 a year in consulting fees -- is equally revolting, Cunningham says.

"My guess is probably the only consulting work that he could get paid $300,000 for is something related to the legislature, to legislation, to TennCare -- you don't know."

Until now, the focus has been on the $237,000 Ford received in consulting fees from Managed Care Services Group, a company tied to a major TennCare provider.

But those tax returns also reveal another $890,000 in unspecified consulting income between 2001 and 2003.  The IRS did not require the source of that business income to be reported.

All totaled, the consulting fees for those three years add up to $1.1 million.

"I don't know what John Ford was doing with a million dollars in consulting fees," Cunningham says, "but that's just the problem."

Ford's attorney, Ed Yarbrough, has acknowledged the Senate chairman may have done consulting for at least one company with business before his committee.

Still, he adds, "what I am sure of, though, is that it was not a payment for anything having to do with the state of Tennessee, TennCare or the state legislature."

But an unpublished legal opinion obtained by NewsChannel 5 -- written by the state attorney general in 1996 at Ford's request -- shows he wanted advice about consulting contracts that elected officials might sign with road builders and TennCare HMO's.

The opinion concluded elected officials could cut consulting deals with such companies -- as long as they were not directly involved in approving contracts and as long as the payments did not come straight from TennCare.

"If he didn't have anything to hide it would be published -- the public would know about it," Cunningham adds. "Thank goodness you found it, Phil."

Last year, Ford even threatened to quit during debate over legislation that would have required lawmakers to disclose certain consulting relationships.

"A lot of us will not serve under these circumstances -- just simply will not serve her under these circumstances," he told his Senate colleagues.

Senate leaders may have known all along about Ford's financial interests. 

In fact, newly enhanced audio tapes from that debate show that Lt. Gov. John Wilder's main concern was protecting the Memphis Democrat.

"They don't need to hit him upside the head with this damn thing," Wilder confided to Democratic leader Ward Crutchfield in a conversation captured on an open mike.

"I swear to God, they don't. We just don't need to be here. It ain't worth it. After all the years he's been here...."

Ford says taxpayers don't have a right to know where he gets his money, but Cunningham has a different opinion about Ford's million dollars.

"We work damn hard for this money. We should know who is getting paid... and what kind of influence they have on the system."

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