Is Memphis Ready For Another Indictment?

I’m not saying it will happen, or that anyone’s guilty, or anything like that. To be sure, I don’t know enough of the facts surrounding the Mayor’s personal and professional doings to speak intelligently on the matter. I am pretty sure that Memphis isn’t ready for another indictment.

The Feds here in Memphis have a mixed record when it comes to political indictments. On the one hand you’ve got John Ford. He and his other Tennessee Waltzers are either in jail, or on their way out of jail. On the other hand, you’ve got Edmund Ford Sr., who was found not guilty. I’m not going to make any judgments on the quality of the indictments, but it is interesting that former U.S. Attorney Kustoff left the office (May 16th was his last day) before the Edmund Ford Sr. case concluded (May 21st). I’m not saying it had anything to do with any weakness in the case, because I don’t know that and I recognize that US Attorneys are political appointees and do not actually present the cases. I just find it interesting.

The latter trial involving Edmund Ford left a bad taste in the mouths of many Memphians. A lot of people, including some who initially thought he was guilty, felt the Government’s case looked like entrapment, even if it didn’t meet the legal standard of entrapment. Many people in Memphis looked at the latter indictments as a witch hunt.

Perception vs. Reality being what it is, there is a perception in the community that because the majority of the Memphians indicted in both Tennessee Waltz and Main Street Sweeper were African-American, that this amounted to a racially driven hit job on African-American civic leaders. Remember, in the battle between perception vs. reality, perception often wins.

So now the Memphis US Attorney’s office has a perception problem, and while the Grand Jury is still out on the Mayor, the Mayor most certainly understands this and will use this perception problem in his upcoming campaign to turn any potential indictment into a racial, rather than legal issue.

The Mayor has plenty of public perception to back him up.

1. The perception that only African-Americans were targeted in both operations as I mentioned above. The reality is that this is not the case. That said, the fact that so much of the media coverage in Memphis centered on the Fords ultimately reinforces this perception.

2. Neither Tennessee Waltz, nor any other operation, uncovered individuals who may have sought to buy influence. Certainly, people seeking to buy influence don’t advertise in the classifieds, but while it’s easier to investigate the demand side, the supply side is usually where it begins.

3. There is a perception in Memphis, right or wrong, that wealthy whites consistently buy influence in the city or use their influence to discredit African-American leaders. Herenton effectively planted this seed back in June of 2007. Remember this?

“I think the city of Memphis should know what so-called powerful businessmen are doing to their leaders,” Smith told The Commercial Appeal on Wednesday.
“I think it should upset not only the African-American community, but the whole city.”

4. The Mayor, who has fought off charges of corruption for as long as I’ve lived here, knows how to work a situation. He’s doing it right now. In yesterday’s CA we learned that the Mayor had summoned people to serve as character witnesses on his behalf. Publicly, this looks like solidarity between the Mayor and his current and former appointees. Publicly, this discredits any impression of wrongdoing on the Mayor’s part. It will be interesting to see how many people actually sign the affidavits, but from a PR standpoint, the Mayor has won this round.

So, aside from the evidentiary challenges the government faces, there are some pretty significant PR challenges. Now, that doesn’t seal the deal against the government’s case, but it does raise the standard for them. If the government presents a case rife with circumstantial evidence, they will lose, and be called out by just about every quarter of Memphis as racially driven partisan hacks. If the government can dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s and create a narrative of corruption, they may still lose. The reason, this case will be tried in the court of public opinion more than any other corruption trial in recent memory. The Mayor has a platform, and he’ll damn well use it. It will be difficult for the US Attorney’s office to counter the Mayor, without giving away the store.

So, where to go from here? The US Attorney’s office has a duty to investigate and prosecute individuals who break the law, regardless of the public perception. I’m sure if they feel they have a case, they’ll go with it despite any PR challenges they may face. At the same time, a great deal of caution needs to be exercised so they don’t further diminish the public faith in the local office. If this one gets screwed up, any attempts to reel in corruption could be devastatingly crippled in the future.

0 Replies to “Is Memphis Ready For Another Indictment?”

  1. “Memphis” isn’t monolithic in being “ready” or not ready.

    You overrate any perception of racial bias in prosecutions here and yet stoke those fires by so doing. I’m at 201 Poplar several times a week; and I’d say the defendants there are disproportionately black too. And that proves what?

    “Many people in Memphis” voted for Herenton this last time. And that proves what?

    You seem to be running scared from imagined mobs. We just can’t go there,man, or we repeat the mistakes of the late 60’s that got us here.

    I think YOUR perception of the quality and fairness of the work of the local offices of the FBI and US Attorney are off base.

    1. MY perception of the “{quality and fairness” of the local offices of the FBI and USAttorney offices is that;
      1. They prosecute when they feel they have a case based on evidence.
      2. Sometimes that case doesn’t work out for them.

      After Ed Ford’s acquittal, I heard from several individuals (more than 10 less than 50) that they felt he had been entrapped, and that the US Gov’t was “going after the Ford family” or some iteration of that sentiment. At the time of the indictment, and through the trial the current Administration was facing charges of manipulating US A’s offices, something I didn’t mention in the post, but that was in the background. I don’t bring this up to besmirch anyone’s reputation, but to put the proper context on the situation.

      Ultimately, this post has less to do with the “quality and fairness” of the US A’s offices or work, and more to do with the manner any impending indictment will be tried.

      Herenton is setting this up to be tried in the court of public opinion, rather than a court of law. This is evident in his most recent actions. So this is not to discourage anyone from doing their job, but to cast a light on the obvious public maneuverings of a Mayor seeking to maintain his position, and eventually use his bully pulpit as a means to affect public opinion in his favor.

      In essence, my message is move forward with caution and don’t underestimate your opponent. If there is an indictment, the trial is going to look more like MMA than boxing.

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