updated 5/26/2005 2:27:02 PM ET 2005-05-26T18:27:02

Four Tennessee lawmakers, a former lawmaker and two others were indicted Thursday amid a federal investigation into the business dealings of a state senator from Memphis from a powerful political family, officials said.

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The defendants are charged with taking bribes from undercover investigators to influence legislation concerning a bogus company set up by the FBI. The company, called E-Cycle Management Inc., purported to be a recycler of outdated electronic equipment.

“We hope it will bring back some of the trust back to state government,” Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn said.

Those charged included the senator, John Ford; fellow Sens. Kathryn Bowers and Ward Crutchfield; state Rep. Chris Newton; and former state Sen. Roscoe Dixon. Newton is a Republican and the others are Democrats. Calls to the legislators’ offices Thursday were not immediately returned.

Bribery, intimidation charges
Ford also is charged with three counts of attempting to threaten or intimidate potential witnesses. The indictment said he told an undercover agent that “if he caught someone trying to set him up he would shoot that person.”

Ford is alleged to have taken a payoff of $55,000 from E-Cycle Management, with other defendants allegedly getting lesser amounts.

His brother is former U.S. Rep Harold Ford Sr., who served in Congress for 11 terms. His nephew, Rep. Harold Ford Jr., has served five terms in Congress and on Wednesday entered the race for the Senate seat now held by Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist.

U.S. Attorney Terry Harris said the investigation has been under way for two years after authorities got an anonymous complaint. The undercover operation was dubbed “Tennessee Waltz.”

“Public corruption is a high priority,” Harris said. “Our citizens have a right to know government is not for sale.”

Recycling scam
Newton said he was interviewed earlier this month by FBI agents and was asked about legislation that would allow companies to buy and sell used electronic equipment from the state. He, Ford, Bowers, Newton Crutchfield were all among the bill’s sponsors.

The bill would have required state government to route surplus computer and electronic equipment to local schools districts. It also required that any equipment the schools didn’t need be disposed of by a qualified electronic recycling company.

Also charged were Barry Myers and Charles Love. Love is a registered lobbyist who said last week that he lobbied legislators on behalf of E-Cycle Management. Myers couldn’t immediately be identified.

The arrests happened as the Tennessee General Assembly was trying to wrap up debate on the state budget and adjourn the session by Friday.

“It’s a sad day for the state of Tennessee. It’s a sad day for the Legislature,” said Senate Speaker Pro Tem Micheal Williams.

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