- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 31, 2005

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Over the three decades he has spent in the Tennessee Senate, John Ford has lost paternity lawsuits, given a political job to a girlfriend and successfully been sued for sexual harassment.

So it was not surprising last year when the 62-year-old Democrat testified at a child-support hearing that he has two households — one with a pregnant ex-wife and their three children and another with a longtime girlfriend and their two children. That is in addition to another child he has with a third woman.

But what caught the eye of fellow lawmakers was the release of Mr. Ford’s tax returns at the hearing, showing he received more than $230,000 from a consulting company with financial ties to TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program.

Now a Senate ethics committee and a federal grand jury are looking into the matter, and the senator from Memphis is facing perhaps his most serious investigation.

Lawmakers at first just wanted to know whether Mr. Ford lived in his own state Senate district, since neither his ex-wife nor his longtime girlfriend did. But the investigation soon turned to Mr. Ford’s work as a private business consultant.

Mr. Ford did not disclose his work as a consultant, and senators want to know whether he has tried to influence the awarding of state contracts or had financial ties to TennCare.

Mr. Ford’s tax returns show that a company called Managed Care Services Group paid him $237,000 in 2002 and 2003. The consulting group was paid $1.1 million by Doral Dental to promote its bid to win a TennCare contract.

Doral eventually was awarded an exclusive, $6.3 million contract to provide dental coverage to about 620,000 poor and uninsured children through the TennCare program.

The ethics committee’s chairman, Senate Republican Leader Ron Ramsey, says Mr. Ford’s business dealings “don’t pass the smell test.”

Mr. Ford — brother of former congressman Harold Ford Sr. and uncle of current Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. — has said he has done nothing illegal or unethical. He did not respond to a request by the Associated Press to be interviewed for this story.

Tennessee senators, who have the authority to remove one of their own from office, have long drawn criticism that their ethics and financial-disclosure rules are weak. Now Mr. Ford’s troubles are turning up the heat.

“People are taking the criticism more seriously,” said Sen. Jim Kyle, Memphis Democrat.

The ethics committee promised an investigation into Mr. Ford’s business dealings, and the House passed a bill that would make it a crime for lawmakers to draw consulting fees from companies doing business with the state.

Despite the scandals, Mr. Ford easily has won re-election from his inner-city district. Accusations of fast spending with campaign money and public clashes between an ex-wife and a girlfriend have done little to hurt him with the voters.

Mr. Kyle said Mr. Ford’s colleagues hesitate to make judgments on his personal life.

“He’s been elected by the voters,” Mr. Kyle said. “There’s a lot of respect up here for somebody who gets elected by the voters. That’s just the way we are.”

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