Former Memphis Mayor Is Target of Federal Probe

Google News, October 27, 2009

Former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton may be the target of a federal criminal probe, but his campaign manager says it’s not distracting him from making a run for congress.

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Herenton is running for the 9th Congressional District seat held by fellow Democrat Steve Cohen.

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Herenton, who served 18 years as the city’s first black mayor before his resignation in June, acknowledged that the investigation involves “a local Greyhound bus line property.”

Records obtained by The Commercial Appeal show businessmen who paid Herenton for an option to buy the Greyhound site hoped to build a luxury hotel there.

Herenton’s resignation came as federal investigators questioned how he used extra money from a pricey annual Christmas party attended by prominent business people, the newspaper has reported. The money, acknowledged by Herenton’s lawyer, is being scrutinized by FBI and IRS agents.


Former Memphis mayor Willie W. Herenton has been informed he is a target of a federal criminal probe and has complained to U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder that the target letter he received “is grounded solely in politics.”

Herenton is a candidate for the Democratic nomination in the 9th Congressional District against incumbent Rep. Steve Cohen next year.

Herenton forwarded a copy of his letter to Holder to The Commercial Appeal Tuesday. In it, he says he was informed by the local U.S. Attorney’s Office that he is a target of an investigation involving “personal business transactions that I participated in while mayor and which specifically concern a local Greyhound Bus Line property.”

The former mayor noted that the notification, coming “just weeks” before his first campaign event, “is grounded solely in politics and is nothing more than a well-orchestrated attempt to influence the outcome of the congressional election next year.”

A target letter often is a precursor to an indictment. The government generally sends the letters to potential defendants to give them an opportunity to testify before the grand jury to defend themselves.

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Hickman Ewing, former U.S. attorney in Memphis, said target letters are used to warn potential defendants of their legal jeopardy.

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The five-term mayor and former Memphis City Schools superintendent devotes some space in his letter to a recitation of recent scandals involving what he says was a “plot to ensnare me in criminal conduct involving sex, prostitution and bribery of an inmate in a federal prison.” Herenton says that “through the grace of God,” he found out about the enterprise, informed law enforcement and requested an investigation.

Herenton says that after he had “blown the whistle on employees within the Justice Department” involving the plot, “retaliation by federal officials began in earnest.” He tells Holder that his friends and business associates were subpoenaed and all his business transactions were scrutinized. “When no evidence of wrongdoing was uncovered, the local U.S. Attorney’s Office selectively leaked documents to The Commercial Appeal, all in an effort to undermine me and my leadership of the city of Memphis.”

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