The Virginian-Pilot by Tim McGlone - February 26, 2011
NORFOLK, VA - Retired Norfolk homicide detective Robert Glenn Ford was sentenced in federal court Friday to 12-1/2 years in prison for taking bribes from criminals and lying to the FBI about it. Calling Ford's conduct "dishonest, detrimental, unethical" and "an abuse of power," U.S. District Judge Jerome B. Friedman gave Ford just about the top end of federal sentencing guidelines. The judge ordered that Ford be taken away immediately. U.S. marshals led Ford, 57, out of court in handcuffs as family members wept quietly from their seats. U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride called it "a really sad day" when a police officer gets convicted and sent to prison for abusing his position and betraying his fellow officers. "He disgraced his badge," MacBride said. A federal jury last fall found Ford guilty of two counts of extortion and one count of lying to the FBI. The jury believed a number of witnesses, many of them drug dealers, who said they paid Ford bribes in exchange for getting favorable treatment in the courts. The jury determined that Ford helped get those drug dealers reduced sentences by telling prosecutors and judges that they had provided crucial help in solving homicides. Those witnesses testified that they provided no help at all. Assistant U.S. Attorney Alan M. Salsbury, one of two prosecutors who handled the trial, told the judge it was "difficult to imagine anything more loathsome." "His crimes are exactly the sort that erode public confidence in the criminal justice system," he told the judge. Ford, of Virginia Beach, retired from the Norfolk Police Department in 2007 after 30 years. As a homicide detective for most of the last 20 years, he handled some of the city's most notorious homicide cases. He continues to deny any wrongdoing and plans to appeal. Salsbury and Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa E. O'Boyle went to court asking for a 15-year prison term. For simple extortion, federal guidelines call for a minimum of one to two years in prison, but Ford received more time for being a police officer, obstructing justice and the amount taken. Prosecutors argued the amount should be more than $70,000. Friedman ruled that the amount Ford took was around $66,000, which lowered the guidelines from 12 to 15 years to about 10 to 12 years. "I'm just trying to do the right thing here," the judge said. The absolute maximum penalty for extortion is 20 years.
Ford's attorney, Lawrence H. Woodward Jr., argued for leniency, noting that the court received around 80 letters from family and friends, and that the courtroom was largely full of supporters, all representing "the community." But Friedman quickly cut him off. These are friends and family, not representatives of the community, the judge said. "These are mature, thoughtful people," Woodward replied. "In fact, they are representative of the community." "Mr. Woodward, we both have been doing this a long time," Friedman said, adding that he's never gotten support letters that say bad things. Woodward also argued that Ford's career as a public servant should count for something and that time in prison for a cop is far worse than for the typical citizen. "Every day in jail will be a living hell for him," Woodward said, adding that Ford expects to be scorned by prison staff and targeted by other inmates. The judge then asked Ford whether he had anything to say. "Not at this time, your honor," Ford answered. Ford did submit a six-page letter to the judge, but it was not made public. Besides the conviction, Ford has been accused of obtaining false confessions in some homicide cases, including the well-publicized 1997 killing of Navy wife Michelle Moore-Bosko. Four men charged in that case, known as the Norfolk Four, assert in court filings that Ford coerced confessions from them. The men received conditional pardons from then-Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, but they are seeking full exoneration from the courts. Still, Ford maintains the support of detectives and officials in the Norfolk Police Department and the Norfolk Commonwealth's Attorney's Office. Many showed up at Friday's sentencing but declined to comment. Outside court Friday, Washington attorney Donald Salzman, who is assisting in the Norfolk Four appeals, called Ford's corruption "pervasive" and a pattern that followed him throughout his career. "We believe the evidence shows that he not only corrupted the criminal justice system to benefit defendants but he also manipulated the process to prejudice innocent defendants, including our clients," he said. Tim McGlone, (757) 446-2343, email@example.com