Ethics Chairman Wants Full Investigation of Cooper, Wilder Deal - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

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Ethics Chairman Wants Full Investigation of Cooper, Wilder Deal

(Story created: 9/13/05)

The head of the Senate's ethics committee says he's likely to ask for special counsel to investigate a business deal involving two prominent senators. One of them: the state's lieutenant governor.

It's all in response to questions raised by our chief investigative reporter, Phil Williams.

This comes comes two weeks after a Senate ethics subcommittee first huddled behind closed doors, then decided not to investigate Senate chairman Jerry Cooper.

That despite the fact that the Warren County Democrat had recently been listed as an "unindicted co-conspirator" in a bank fraud scheme.

Among the bank's owners: Senate speaker and lieutenant governor John Wilder.

It was a situation that hadn't stopped the committee from investigating former Senate chairman John Ford.

"I was not exactly satisfied with the actions of the subcommittee."

Senate Ethics Committee chairman Ron Ramsey says he was disturbed by the subcommittee's claim that it couldn't find key documents -- documents obtained by NewsChannel 5 from the state's own files.

"There were things that could have been arranged for them to work with that they could have gotten, and I think you pointed that out very well."

And, as our investigation first discovered, Cooper used his position to get state funding for a railroad connection to a piece of land he owned, which enabled him to sell it for more than a million dollars.

But that's something subcommittee chairman Douglas Henry didn't even bring before the panel.

"That's not the stance of the committee. We will look at everything."

Then, there's the question of the political influence that a federal grand jury claimed Cooper used to help his buyer get a bank loan.

"He asked me if my bank might be interested in making a loan to this person that he sold his plant to."

After the lieutenant governor said he and Cooper had talked about the deal, he completely retracted that statement a few days later.

"Were you involved in the loan or not involved with the loan, those are the type questions we need to have answered."

Chairman Ramsey says he'll call the full Ethics Committee together next week, when he expects that he'll ask them to hire special counsel -- to follow the investigation wherever it leads.

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