NewsChannel 5 Investigates: Capitol Hill Corruption
Medicaid Fraud Unit Investigates Ford Case
(Story created: 3/29/05)
FIRST ON 5: Now, for the first time, authorities are officially confirming a criminal investigation is underway involving powerful Senate chairman John Ford. And they say it's looking at possible Medicaid fraud.
"There is nothing here for a court of law to decide," Ford recently told the Senate Ethics Committee.
Despite his emphatic denials, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation now confirms it has opened a formal criminal investigation. That came at the request of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Nashville.
Other sources say it also involves the FBI.
TBI spokesperson Jennifer Johnson tells NewsChannel 5's chief investigative reporter Phil Williams:
"It has definitely reached a formal stage. The investigation itself is opened into Doral Dental, and our Medicaid fraud unit is investigating."
Doral Dental is the company that provides dental services to TennCare patients.
"The implication that somehow Sen. Ford was responsible for Doral getting a contract with Tennessee is completely false," Ford lawyer Ed Yarbrough has previously told NewsChannel 5.
But in 2001, Doral Dental hired Ford's business partner, Ron Dobbins, to help it win and keep a huge TennCare contract.
The consulting deal gave their company, "Managed Care Services Group," a cut of the TennCare contract. But the deal faced automatic termination if a "principal legislator" died.
"It's a pretty extraordinary document to have a contractual arrangement essentially purchasing influence of a governmental official involving a governmental contract," former federal prosecutor Gary Blackburn said.
In fact, TennCare's contracts state that "no part of the total contract amount shall be paid directly or indirectly to an employee or official of the State of Tennessee."
"Has he profited from TennCare?" Phil Williams asked Yarbrough.
"No," Ford's lawyer responded. But Doral Dental says the deal with Ford's company was signed by previous owners and the current owners just don't know what they intended.
A Doral lawyer confirms the company is now working with investigators to get to the bottom of the scandal.
A federal grand jury in Memphis has already subpoenaed Ford's tax returns that were filed as part of a child support case in Memphis.
OmniCare lawyer alleges 'illegal acts'
Osbie Howard is a long-time Ford associate who's been linked to Managed Care Services Group. He's also president of OmniCare, another TennCare provider.
Now, the company's in-house lawyer, Felicia Corbin Johnson, has filed a lawsuit against OmniCare. It states she "opposed and refused to remain silent about or participate in what she had a good faith belief were illegal acts and/or violations of state regulations and/or public policy." It claims she "was told by Osbie Howard that she was being discharged because of her judgment, loyalty and decision-making."
Her attorney refused to rule out the possibility that some of those acts might have involved Sen. Ford.