A close friend of former Gov. Don Sundquist has pleaded guilty to a federal misdemeanor charge, stemming from the investigation of state contracts.
Al Ganier pleaded guilty today to a superseding information charging him with unauthorized access of a computer used in interstate commerce.
Ganier had been scheduled to go on trial next month on obstruction of justice charges for allegedly deleting e-mail and other computer files relating to the contracts investigation.
In the plea agreement, Ganier admits only that he "obtained access to the computer" of his secretary by informing her "that he needed to look for certain documents, but did not disclose that he intended to alter the locations of files maintained on that computer."
He does not admit intending to obstruct the criminal investigation.
Under the terms of the deal, Ganier will serve an 18-month period of unsupervised probation.
He could have faced up to 20 years in federal prison if he had been convicted of obstructing justice.
Ganier was indicted in 2004 in the case that stemmed from NewsChannel 5's "Friends in High Places" investigation of contracts awarded by the Sundquist administration.
But the trial had been delay by lengthy pre-trial appeals over the admissibility of certain computer evidence.
Ganier's lawyer Aubrey Harwell says prosecutors "thought that the disposition that was arrived at today was fair to the government and was fair to the defendant.
"We agree with them. We think it was fair, and it was just, and it was appropriate."
U.S. Attorney Craig Morford said, in a news release, that the resolution was "appropriate in light of the conduct to which Mr. Ganier has admitted, and in light of the evidentiary and procedural posture of this case as it stood after a two-year delay."
Ganier will appear before a before a federal judge Aug. 17, at which time the judge will decide whether to accept the agreement's proposed sentence.
The plea agreement does not contain any requirement that requires Mr. Ganier to cooperate with the contracts investigation.
That investigation has already resulted in convictions for another close friend of Governor Sundquist and one of his administration's appointees.
As to whether that investigation continues, prosecutors would not say.
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