Thompson Backer With Criminal Past Resigns
The chair of Fred Thompson "First Day Founders" fundraising group has resigned after reports surfaced that he had been arrested on charges of cocaine trafficking and bookmaking in the 1980s.
Philip J. Martin, a longtime Thompson friend and the owner of the small private jet that Thompson has been using to criss-cross the country to campaign events, issued a short statement today that was released by the Thompson campaign.
"I have decided to resign my position as Chair of 'First Day Founders' of 'The Friends of Fred Thompson,' Martin's statement said. "The focus of this campaign should be on Fred Thompson's positions on the issues and his outstanding leadership ability, not on mistakes I made some 24 years ago. I deeply regret any embarrassment this has caused."
The Washington Post reported Sunday that Martin entered a plea of guilty to the sale of 11 pounds of marijuana in 1979; the court withheld judgment pending completion of his probation, Florida court records showed. He was charged in 1983 with violating his probation and with multiple counts of felony bookmaking, cocaine trafficking and conspiracy. He pleaded no contest to the cocaine-trafficking and conspiracy charges, which stemmed from a plan to sell $30,000 worth of the drug, and was continued on probation. Martin's attorney declined comment on the criminal charges.
In the ensuing years, Martin moved to Tennessee, accrued wealth with the help of prominent Chattanooga business executives and, as an increasingly prolific donor to Republicans, became a friend and confidant of Thompson. Martin is now a top fundraiser for Thompson's 2008 presidential bid, and over the past six months he has allowed Thompson to use his private jet to hopscotch the country for campaign appearances.
Thompson said yesterday that he wishes Martin had told him earlier about past drug trafficking and bookmaking arrests because, even though they occurred more than two decades ago, "nothing is ever over and done with and forgotten about in this business."
Speaking with reporters after an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press," Thompson defended Martin, saying he had long ago paid his debt for legal problems in his past.
"I know him to be a good man. I know him to be a man who has rehabilitated himself and has led a productive life," Thompson said in the interview, which was posted on the Fox News Web site. "He is my friend, and he is going to remain my friend. Now, what I do about it after I talk to him with regard to the future, we will just have to see."
Martin also has faced a mountain of unpaid taxes owed by businesses he has previously owned or helped run, public records show.
Companies connected to Martin have owed more than $500,000 in taxes to various states and to the IRS, according to records of debts and tax liens posted online. The bulk of those debts were owed by Four Seasons Technologies, a company that Martin and a friend helped run during the 1990s. Martin left the firm in 2002.
The tax troubles, first reported this morning by ABC News, were the latest revelation about Thompson's longtime friend.
Martin's resignation also means Thompson will find a new way to get to campaign events. "We will not use the plane," said Todd Harris, Thompson's communication director, when asked.
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