Jury Begins Deliberations in Congressman’s Bank Fraud Trial
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) _ A jury Wednesday began deliberating bank fraud charges against Rep. Harold Ford, a black congressman who says the case is racially motivated.
Jurors, who are being sequestered, met for four hours before retiring for the night. Deliberations were to resume Thursday.
Ford, a Democrat, is charged with taking thousand of dollars in handouts from former bankers and political allies Jake and C.H. Butcher Jr.
During the 5 1/2 -week federal trial, prosecutors portrayed Ford as a congressman on the take, using bogus bank loans to pay off mortgages on his homes in Memphis and Washington.
Ford, 47, said he expected acquittal but was prepared to appeal if convicted.
Ford, who has held his seat for 18 years and is Tennessee’s only black member of Congress, has protested the selection of an out-of-town jury made up of 11 whites and one black from largely rural counties north of Memphis.
The court called for an out-of-town jury, citing extensive news coverage surrounding his first trial.
Ford first went to trial on the same charges in 1990 before a Memphis jury made up eight blacks and four whites. A mistrial was declared when jurors were unable to reach a verdict.
″This is not a legally constituted jury to hear this case,″ said Ford, who has been re-elected three times since his 1987 indictment. ″This is not a cross-section of jurors similar to the makeup of Memphis.″
Memphis is 55 percent black.
Ford is on trial with two co-defendants, former Butcher lawyers Karl Schledwitz, 41, and Douglas Beaty, 44. They are accused of helping funnel a bogus Butcher loan of $350,000 to Ford to pay his personal debts.
Ford said he didn’t know that money came from a loan, but regarded it as an investment in the N.J. Ford & Sons Funeral Parlor, his family’s business in Memphis.
Ford’s indictment lists total loans by the Butcher brothers to him or his family’s funeral home of $1.2 million between 1976 and 1982. Ford said the loans totaled under $600,000 and all have been settled since his indictment.
Ford and the Butchers have been personal friends and political allies since the 1970s. The Butcher brothers’ banking empire, then the largest in Tennessee, collapsed in 1983. The Butchers went to prison for fraud.
Ford is charged with one count of conspiracy, three counts of bank fraud and 14 counts of mail fraud. Schledwitz and Beaty are each charged with conspiracy and four counts of mail fraud.
Each of the charges in the indictment carries a five-year prison sentence upon conviction.