(WMC-TV) - Former Tennessee state senator John Ford talked about his trial, conviction, and jail conditions in his first television interview since being released from prison.
Ford's political background
A video of Ford taking money and evidence presented by federal prosecutors nailed the senator in the 2005 public corruption takedown known as Tennessee Waltz. Nearly a dozen politicians were snared in that scandal; Ford, who served 31 years in the Tennessee senate, was the most prominent of them all.
John Ford's career in politics began in 1971, followed by almost four and half years in federal prison. His supervised release came to an end this spring.
The evidence and trial
"Some say what I don't know won't hurt you. I beg to differ. What you don't know will hurt you," said Ford. "I don't know what their motivation was ... Except to go after John Ford."
He wishes he had taken the stand during his trial.
"[The video captured with taking money] was shown over and over again. They said, 'Oh, he must have been doing something wrong.' The mere fact of someone passing money to you or you taking money from someone is not a crime," he said. "It's not a federal crime. It's not a state crime. It's not a state law crime."
Federal prosecutors called the tapes smoking guns. It consisted of eight video clips of Ford taking stacks of $100 bills from an undercover FBI agent in exchange for political favors.
Ford's defense attorney Mike Scholl argued at the time that Ford believed the payments were for legitimate business advice.
"That money, in essence, was for me working for, as a consultant for the person who lied, so to speak, that they were in a music production business and wanted me to do things to help promote them," said Ford.
Prosecutors said Ford accepted the $55,000 to make sure legislation benefiting a fictitious company called E-Cycle would pass legislative hurdles. Jurors heard dozens of audio recordings of Ford and an undercover agent talking about changing the legislation to give "E-Cycle" an advantage over competitors.
"When they pass the money along to you, for something else you're doing for them, they do it and start talking about this bill. It makes it appear as though you're receiving this for a bill," said Ford. "He said, 'Well look, I have your money for your consultant work. He does that and when he's doing it, he starts saying he has this bill on this company and blah, blah, blah."
Ford says he was advised not to take the stand during his trial and said his attorney ignored his request to argue entrapment.
Attorney Mike Scholl says if Ford wanted to argue entrapment he would have had to admit to taking a bribe.
Ford's multiple bribery convictions
Jurors ultimately convicted Ford on one count of bribery. Six additional convictions soon followed in Nashville on charges the senator used his position to pocket more than $800,000 from two medical companies doing business with the State of Tennessee.
Ford worked as a consultant for those companies, which is something the government said he never disclosed.
"You didn't have to disclose the name of the companies. Quite frankly, I made all of my disclosures," he said. "I didn't do anything for them in the state of Tennessee, but did do things for them outside the state of Tennessee."
Ford maintains he had no influence on which companies received state funds.
"Trust me, I knew all the governors from Blanton to Bredesen. None of them needed any legislator that powerful to consult on making a payment. They just don't do that," said Ford.
Ford says he believes he never stood a chance in the Nashville case.
"They could pick an all-white jury, which they did. They got them from these rural towns surrounding Nashville. People that are not inclined to find a black person powerful like me innocent of anything even when they did not have a case," he said. "They created a situation just to defame my character, to destroy me. They did a pretty good job of that ... I'd hate to say it was racial. I think they looked at me and said, 'Here's a person who happens to be black and he's got too much power.' "
Ford successfully had the Nashville convictions overturned through appeal.
He was not successful in getting a reduced sentence for the Memphis conviction with District Court Judge J. Daniel Breen stating, "The court is not convinced that a reduction for acceptance of responsibility is warranted in this case. This trial reflects a person of greed and avarice, but at the same time a man with the ability to help others. This is the tragic dichotomy of this case. The sentence, therefore, should reflect the serious nature of this offense."
Despite prison conditions, Ford has 'no regrets'
"It was overcrowded and they had me sleeping on the floor for three months, concrete," said Ford. "I only ate enough to survive. I think I lost 25 pounds and a great deal of my health. I was in perfect health."
Ford moved to a half-way house after his release from prison in August 2012. A state law passed during his time behind bars that prohibits felons from running for office does not apply to Ford.
"I can run again, if I want to. The law doesn't stop me from running. The law was passed after and the law can't go back," said Ford.
Ford cannot go back either. He says he has no regrets.
"It hurt my children more so than it did me and a lot of my constituents, because it was something they couldn't understand," said Ford. "The mistake I made was simply to trust people I didn't know that well ... "It's not how far you fall, it's how you get up.
Watch Kontji's entire interview with John Ford on WMCTV.COM here. He talks more about his time in prison, behind the scenes at his trial , and even his love life.
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