John Ford (Tennessee politician)

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For other prominent persons of this name, see John Ford (disambiguation).

John N. Ford (born May 3, 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee), is a former Democratic member of the Tennessee State Senate and a member of Tennessee's most prominent African American political family. The older brother of former U.S. Representative Harold Ford, Sr. and hence the uncle of former Tennessee U.S. Representative and 2006 United States Senate candidate Harold Ford, Jr. In April 2007 he was convicted on Federal bribery charges. As of 2010 he is serving a sentence in U.S. federal prison.

Ford resigned from the Tennessee State Senate on May 28, 2005, in a letter to the Lieutenant Governor of Tennessee, John S. Wilder, and was placed under FBI house arrest. He stated in his letter of resignation that "I plan to spend the rest of my time with my family clearing my name".

The Fords' involvement in politics is generally thought to have been linked to the connection between N. J. Ford, father of John and Harold Sr., and prominent political boss E. H. Crump. Crump, who died in 1954, is widely believed to have been responsible for directing the business of the families of black persons who died unattended in the former John Gaston Hospital to N. J. Ford's funeral home (still operated under the name N. J. Ford and Sons Funeral Home, although N. J. Ford himself is now deceased).

Six of N. J. Ford's sons became very active in elective politics. Harold Sr. was, in 1974, the first African American elected to Congress from Tennessee since Reconstruction; he served until 1997, when he was succeeded by his son, Harold Ford, Jr. Harold Ford, Sr. and Harold Ford, Jr. are the only African Americans elected to federal office from Tennessee in the modern era. Joe Ford has long been involved in local politics, with varying degrees of success and was interim mayor of Shelby County in 2009 and 2010. James Ford, now deceased, was a Shelby County commissioner. Emmitt Ford served several terms as a member of the Tennessee House of Representatives. Ed Ford served two terms on the Memphis City Council and he was succeeded by his son Ed Ford Jr. Currently, Justin Ford, his nephew, serves as the youngest member of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners.

Early life[edit]

Ford grew up with eleven brothers and sisters on Horn Lake Road in the West Junction neighborhood of South Memphis and he graduated from Geeter High School (Now Geeter Middle) in 1960. He then attended Tennessee State University in Nashville, graduating with a bachelor's degree in 1964. He also attended John A. Gupton College in Nashville, receiving an associate's degree in mortuary science, which qualified him to apply for a license as a funeral director. He later attended Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis) and earned a master's degree in 1978. During this time, he was active in Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. He joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, in which he is now a life member. He became involved in the Scouting movement. He was apparently more interested in his father's funeral home business than his brothers and has long served as its president.

Political career[edit]

Ford was first elected to the Memphis City Council in 1971 representing South Memphis' District 6 and served until 1979. He was elected to the Tennessee Senate in 1974, the first election in his district to occur after his having reached the constitutionally-mandated age of 30, the year his brother's election to the U.S. House. He became almost immediately identified with a very direct, abrupt style which his critics felt to be arrogant and abrasive. This tended to further endear him to his constituents in Senate District 29. The district is one of the poorest in the entire state, and was overwhelmingly African American in population. He was re-elected Senator seven times, rarely facing serious opposition. He served in the Senate for over thirty years. Also, he was Shelby County General Sessions Court Clerk from 1992 thru 1996.

In the State Senate, Ford became chairman of the General Welfare, Health, and Human Resources Committee, and the chair of several subcommittees as well. The Welfare position, already powerful when he attained it, became a base for his becoming recognized as one of the most powerful Tennessee senators. He also became an expert in the TennCare managed care program when it was initiated by former governor Ned McWherter. Ford also became prominent in the National Conference of State Legislators and the National Caucus of Black State Legislators, and served for a period as chairman of the Shelby County legislative delegation. He also served one term as Speaker pro Tempore of the Senate.

Bribery conviction[edit]

Further information: Operation Tennessee Waltz

On May 26, 2005, one day after his nephew announced his candidacy for the United States Senate, Ford was arrested by the FBI, along with two other Tennessee state senators, a Tennessee state representative, a former state senator, a Chattanooga school board member, and an African American political activist, for alleged participation in a bribery scheme utilizing a "sting" operation involving a bogus electronics recycling company lobbying for favorable treatment under state law.[1] Known as Operation Tennessee Waltz, the sting operation resulted in multiple charges being brought against Ford and other politicians.

On April 27, 2007, John Ford was convicted by a federal jury in Memphis of accepting $55,000 in bribes. However, the jury deadlocked on the more serious charge of extortion, creating a mistrial on that count. He was acquitted on three counts of witness intimidation.[2]

On August 28, 2007, Ford was sentenced to 66 months in federal prison to be followed by two years of supervised release. Ford is also facing corruption charges in Nashville, TN for accepting bribes totaling over $800,000.00 from medical contractors doing business with the State. In a press conference after the sentencing hearing FBI Agent in Charge My Harrison credited agents Brian Burns and Mark Jackson with excellence in detective work related to Operation Tennessee Waltz which resulted in a ten for ten conviction record against public officials engaged in using public office for private gain through bribery. One defendant remains to be tried in Operation Tennessee Waltz.

On April 29, 2008, Ford reported to prison in Louisiana.

On April 14, 2011, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a portion of the convictions against Ford on jurisdictional grounds.[3]


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