Governor Phil Bredesen testified today that if he had known former state senator John Ford was being paid by a TennCare company, he would have reported Ford to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for requesting that the company get more state dollars.
Testifying for about 20 minutes, Bredesen recalled a meeting with Ford early in his first term in which Ford said that Memphis-based OmniCare, a TennCare provider, needed another 20,000 members to operate efficiently. That was on top of the 120,000 participants already enrolled.
Bredesen said he remembered the conversation, because as a former healthcare CEO himself, he had known many health maintenance organizations that operated efficiently with as few as 30,000 members.
The governor said he talked to many state senators about TennCare issues, but he said it was unusual for a senator to advocate a change in a state contract. Bredesen called the idea that 120,000 members was too few, a “striking” argument.
When the defense attorney asked if other senators had made similar requests, Bredesen said, quote, “that would have stepped outside of the realm of what that official should do.”
Late yesterday, Federal Judge Todd Campbell put a gag order on trial participants, so the governor slipped in and out of the Nashville federal courthouse by a back door.
Ford is 66 and is serving a five-year federal sentence for taking bribes in the well-publicized “Tennessee Waltz” sting conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI paid Ford $55,000 to promote a phony company, E-Cycle, at the General Assembly.
The current trial isn’t connected to that sting. Ford is accused of wire fraud and of concealing his paid involvement with a TennCare company, at the same time he was using his influence as a state senator (and chair of the Senate General Welfare Committee) to try to benefit that company.
Ford reportedly received $800,000 from a company involved with TennCare contractors Doral Dental and OmniCare. Under previous ethics rules, legislators should have acknowledged publicly such amounts of income and where they came from.
Ford’s defense attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender Isaiah Gant, said in his opening statements that Ford didn’t violate disclosure laws. Ford reported that he received consulting income, which Gant argues is all he was required to do.
(The General Assembly made those disclosure laws more strict in the wake of the Tennessee Waltz operation.)
Prosecutors say the money was funneled through a company called Managed Care Services Group, in which Ford was a 40% partner. Other partners were Osbie Howard, also an executive of OmniCare, and Ronald Dobbins of Philadelphia. Dobbins is testifying in the trial under limited immunity.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Eli Richardson is prosecuting the case. He plans to present evidence that Ford got $14,000 a month from Doral Dental and $8,500 a month from Omnicare.
Nashville Federal Judge Todd Campbell is presiding.
A witness Wednesday, former TennCare Assistant Commissioner John Tighe (from Governor Don Sundquist’s administration) told the court that Ford often advocated for Omnicare in TennCare discussions. Tighe said he would have reported Ford to law enforcement authorities had he known that Ford was on Omnicare’s payroll.
Ford’s jury: ten whites, one African-American, and one Native American.