NewsChannel 5 Investigates: Friends in High Places
Ganier Trial to Offer New Peek into Sundquist Contracts
(Story created: 8/1/05)
A trial for a friend of former Gov. Don Sundquist, beginning Tuesday, could provide dramatic new evidence about how friends of Tennessee's last governor snagged hundreds of millions of dollars of your tax money.
Al Ganier, the third person indicted from our Friends in High Places investigation of state contracts, is accused of trying to obstruct the federal investigation.
It was a raid back in December 2002 where investigators seized much of the evidence that'll be laid out in a federal courtroom.
Inside the company that provides Internet service to Tennessee schools, prosecutors say agents found evidence that friend-of-the-governor Al Ganier tried to delete computer files.
Authorities say the files related to the on-going investigation of contracts awarded by the Sundquist administration.
"The question becomes what was in his mind at the time that he did that," says former federal prosecutor Gary Blackburn.
Blackburn says jurors in the Ganier case will have to wrestle with the defendant's motive.
"One way to defend this case would be to attempt to show that people delete e-mails all the time -- and innocently."
Ganier's company, Education Networks of America, landed almost $200 million in state contracts under Sundquist -- the first a no-bid contract.
In pre-court filings, the judge says prosecutors have "some evidence that Sundquist interceded in some way on behalf of ENA with respect to at least one contract."
That evidence, however, isn't expected to be introduced unless Ganier comes into court and claims he never got any help from Sundquist -- and, as a result, had nothing to hide.
But prosecutors plan to show that Ganier was trying to get rid of files regarding another Sundquist friend John Stamps, as well as Sundquist's deputy governor Alex Fischer.
Plus, the judge says prosecutors can introduce e-mails which "show what appears to be both a business relationship and a romantic relationship" between Ganier and the woman who oversaw the bidding process for another of ENA's contracts.
"If I'm a prosecutor, I want to show the nature of those e-mails and that those e-mails are somehow incriminating," Blackburn says.
One of the strongest witnesses against Ganier is expected to be ENA's in-house lawyer who, according to court records, warned company officials of dire legal consequences if they deleted e-mail.
By the time the trial is over, taxpayers may not only have a peek into Al Ganier's mind, but also yet another peek behind the scenes of the Sundquist administration.