NewsChannel 5 Investigates: Capitol Hill Corruption
(Story created: 5/28/05)
Lawmakers have headed home for the year. But, as a result of the Capitol Hill corruption scandal, one will not be coming back. That lawmaker, Senate chairman John Ford, abruptly resigned.
In the end, it was the big public corruption bust that forced Ford's resignation. Ford is one of four sitting lawmakers nabbed by Operation Tennessee Waltz.
But Ford may have already been heading home, without the FBI sting. In fact, the already boiling scandal may have had the Senate on the verge of an unprecedented vote.
Ford's resignation came just a day after he saw himself on an FBI tape, as an undercover operative counted out a $10,000 bribe to the Senate chairman -- and two days after being whisked away to jail in the back of a car driven by federal agents.
As the Senate convened for a rare Saturday session, Lt. Gov. John Wilder read a letter from the beleaguered Memphis Democrat.
"I hereby resign from the state Senate," Ford wrote to Wilder. " I plan to spend the rest of my time with my family clearing my name. Respectfully yours, John Ford."
Rep. John Deberry, D-Memphis, said "this was something that was pretty much expected."
And, around the Capitol, there was almost unanimous agreement.
"Senator Ford did the right thing by resigning," said state Sen. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis.
In fact, Ford had faced an ethical firestorm for months over high-dollar consulting fees and his illegal use of campaign funds to pay for a daughter's wedding, first revealed by an exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation.
"For me to sit here and to be accused of violating the ethics rules is beyond me," he said in an emotional defense back in March before the Senate Ethics Committee.
But committee chairman Ron Ramsey said a just completed report found evidence that Ford was indeed selling his influence for money.
"We were prepared to file a six-count charge against him where he had violated our code of ethics," he added.
"I believe that we would have had the votes to remove Sen. Ford from office. So I think that the writing was on the wall. He could see that. That's what got us to this point. where we are now."
Ramsey says a vote had already been scheduled for June ninth... that he believes would have forced Ford out of the Senate anyway.
That would have been just based on the high-dollar consulting fees and misuse of campaign funds that we've already exposed.
He says the FBI sting just speeded up the process.