TN Waltz has collatateral damage

Published: Mar. 6, 2006 at 11:21 PM CST|Updated: Mar. 6, 2006 at 11:49 PM CST
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Tapes - published by the Commercial Appeal yesterday - seem to point a critical finger at State Representative Larry Miller. He is now one of 12 lawmakers across the state mentioned on undercover tapes or in media reports during the Tennessee Waltz investigation. And while they've been caught in the crossfire, none have been charged.

The newest evidence features more highlights of John Ford and Chris Newton. But it also features a chat between an undercover FBI agent and a bagman about money given to State Representative Larry Miller.

Miller has long said he only took $1000, a legal campaign contribution. But he - along with a handful of others - is feeling the side effects of the Tennessee Waltz. They are collateral damage in a trial that promises to tank the public's trust in elected officials.

"If you sue for slander - and I don't think anyone is immune at that level - then the first thing that happens is you get indicted," says University of Memphis political analyst Larry Moore.

He says there is no winning for politicians on the fringe. People like Larry Miller, State Representatives Tre Hargett and Ulysses Jones. All were mentioned alongside the investigation, but none charged. All have long said they've done nothing wrong.

Moore says if they complain, the government might just try to indict them on witness testimony alone. Besides, he says it's likely prosecutors left their names on the tapes for a reason. They could - after all - have edited them out.

"It gives the impression that well, you know, this is a really a big activity and it involves everybody and we caught the main characters but we just want you to know that we could have gone further."

We spoke with State Representative Larry Miller by phone this morning. He wouldn't do an interview, but told us that "those allegations are untrue and I will speak to an attorney to guide me about how to respond to that allegation."

So far, twelve state lawmakers have been mentioned in transcripts from the Tennessee Waltz case who have not been charged. They are:

House Leader Kim McMillan House, Speaker Pro Tempore Lois DeBerry, Lt. Governor John Wilder, House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, Representative Tommie Brown, Representative Joan Favors, Former Representative Jim Vincent, Senator Jeff Miller, Representative Larry Miller, Representative Ulysses Jones, Representative Tre Hargett, and Representative Joe Armstrong.

Again, none have been charged with any crimes.