Ford Linked to Contractor as Former Lawyer Alleges Illegal Activity - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NewsChannel 5 Investigates: Capitol Hill Corruption

Ford Linked to Contractor as Former Lawyer Alleges Illegal Activity

(Story created: 3/30/05)

FIRST ON 5: A NewsChannel 5 investigation has uncovered new questions about state Sen. John Ford and his connections to yet another TennCare contractor. This time, a former top executive for that company claims she was fired because she would not break the law.

Osbie Howard is a longtime Ford associate and president of the major TennCare contractor OmniCare.

As NewsChannel 5 first revealed, OmniCare's former vice president and in-house lawyer -- Felicia Corbin Johnson -- now claims in a lawsuit that she's a victim of retaliatory discharge.

"Certainly, she refused to keep quiet about and told them things that she felt were illegal.  She's now fired for it," says her attorney, Dan M. Norwood.

Johnson has to be careful, Norwood says, not to violate attorney-client privilege.

But the lawsuit points to a possible connection that, NewsChannel 5 has learned, involved Ford.

Specifically: the handling of a lawsuit filed by Vanderbilt Medical Center against OmniCare.

Vanderbilt officials confirm Ford did meet with top hospital officials in December 2003 to try to help Howard work out a settlement for OmniCare.

"She's obviously not going to keep anything secret and become part of any kind of coverup," Norwood says, "but at the same time, she's got to disclose it under the Supreme Court rule in a court proceeding."

In fact, Ford's OmniCare connections run deep:

  • Osbie Howard helped set up Ford's consulting business.  He also prepares the senator's tax returns.
  • One of OmniCare's board members, Franks Banks, serves as Ford's campaign treasurer.
  • Among OmniCare's other board members was Ford's now-deceased brother, James Ford.

"It's extraordinary for an attorney to come forward in this situation," says state Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden. Herron serves on the legislature's TennCare Oversight Committee, and he wrote the whistleblower law.

Now, he wants to know more about what's going on inside OmniCare.

"When the person was a high executive with a managed care organization that did tens of millions of dollars business with the state of Tennessee, it's got my full attention."

Norwood adds, "Who's to say, if in the court proceedings, she discloses the things she refused to participated in that she felt were illegal or violations of law that those things won't open up other cases."

OmniCare officials declined to comment, although they said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that they believe the lawsuit is "wholly without merit."

Herron says he believes lawmakers need a lot more answers.

OmniCare has denied paying any money to any public officials.

But another TennCare provider, Doral Dental, recently revealed they had learned that Osbie Howard and Ford appeared to be connected with a consulting firm that's received hundreds of thousands of dollars from their TennCare contract.

That all part of the on-going investigation.

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