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Rep. Jack Williams, former ALGOP Chairman arrested on federal public corruption charges

Brandon Moseley

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On Monday, state Rep. Jack Williams, R-Vestavia Hills, and former Alabama Republican Party Chairman Marty Connors were arrested along with a California healthcare industry executive on charges of public corruption.

United States Attorney Louis Franklin announced that Williams, 60, and Riley-era ALGOP Chairman Connors turned lobbyist Martin “Marty” Connors, 61, from Alabaster, Alabama, had been indicted along with G. Ford Gilbert, 70, of Carmichael, California.

According to the indictment, Gregory Gilbert is the owner of a California company that operates diabetes treatment centers throughout the world—Trina Health, LLC (Trina Health).

In 2014 and 2015, Trina Health opened three clinics in Alabama. Soon thereafter, the state’s largest health insurer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, informed Trina Health that it would not cover the treatments provided by them. Gilbert then schemed to force Blue Cross to change its position.

Federal authorities allege that Gilbert came up with a plan to push a bill through the Alabama Legislature’s 2016 session that would require Blue Cross to cover the treatments. Gilbert then made payments to House Majority Leader Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, in exchange for his efforts on behalf of the bill.

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Gilbert also hired Connors to act as a lobbyist on behalf of the bill. The indictment claims that Connors knew of Gilbert’s payments to Majority Leader Hammon.

Hammon and Connors then allegedly recruited Williams, then the chairman of the House Commerce and Small Business Committee. Williams then held a public hearing on the bill. The government alleges that Williams also knew of the payments to Hammon and acted in part to help Hammon, who, as everyone in the scheme knew, was experiencing grave financial problems.

Based on these events, the indictment charges all three defendants with conspiracy to commit bribery related to federal programs, conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, and honest services wire fraud. Additionally, the indictment alleges that Gilbert and Connors committed the substantive offense of bribery related to federal programs.

Gilbert alone is charged with wire fraud, health care fraud, and interstate travel in aid of racketeering. The indictment does not include charges against Hammon because Hammon has already been convicted in federal court of other offenses.

Sources tell the Alabama Political Reporter that Hammon is cooperating with federal authorities and likely is a key witness against his former friends and alleged co-conspirators.

If convicted of the most serious offenses, each defendant in this case faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, significant monetary penalties, asset forfeiture, and restitution.

An indictment merely alleges that crimes have been committed. Each defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The United States Postal Inspection Service investigated the case with the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant United States Attorneys Jonathan S. Ross and Joshua Wendell are prosecuting the case.

Williams is best known in the legislature for his work against human trafficking with the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force which he heads. He is also UAB’s best-known athletics booster. He was instrumental in the effort to restore the football program to UAB and to get legislative approval for a bill to modernize the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center including a new football stadium adjacent to the BJCC complex. Williams manages a UAB athletics website. Williams is also a Republican candidate for the Jefferson County Commission replacing the retiring David Carrington.

Connors was the chairman of the Alabama Republican Party when Congressman Bob Riley, R-Ashland, was elected governor in 2002. Connors split with Riley over Amendment One which would have cost Alabama taxpayers an estimated $1.2 billion a year. Connors has been a delegate to the national GOP convention multiple times.

If convicted, Connors would be the fourth former major party chairman in the state arrested in recent memory.  Mike Hubbard was Alabama Republican Party Chairman.  He was convicted on 12 counts of felony ethics violations.  Bill Blount and Al Lapierre were both Alabama Democratic Party Chairmen.  They pleaded guilty to corruption and bribery charges involving Jefferson County’s massive sewer debts.  Former Birmingham Mayor and Jefferson County Commission Chairman Larry Langford was found guilty of taking payments from Blount, then a noted bond writer.

Williams was a vociferous defender of Hubbard, then Speaker of the House, after Hubbard was indicted.  If found guilty, Williams would be the fourth member of the House convicted of major crimes in just the last three years, joining Hammon, Hubbard, and former state Rep. Oliver Robinson, D-Birmingham.

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Shelby discusses disaster assistance for the Wiregrass with Trump

Chip Brownlee

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Alabama’s senior U.S. Senator Richard Shelby said Thursday that President Donald Trump “agreed to help” with assistance for those affected by Hurricane Michael in Alabama’s Wiregrass region.

Shelby tweeted Thursday that he spoke with Trump about the need for assistance after Michael devastated portions of Southeast Alabama in early October.

“During my meeting with @POTUS, I brought up the need for disaster relief in the #Wiregrass following #HurricaneMichael,” Shelby tweeted. “President Trump agreed to help.”

While Trump approved a Major Disaster Declaration last week for four affected counties, Geneva, Henry, Houston and Mobile, it only provides public assistance grants, which reimburse local governments and community organizations for certain expenses incurred because of the disaster but can’t be disbursed to individuals recovering from a disaster.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has also not yet approved the state of Alabama’s application for an agricultural disaster declaration.

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The Alabama Emergency Management Agency has requested IA grants, and the agency has also provided additional evidence to demonstrate that certain Alabama counties qualify for the individual assistance.

Individual assistance, where it to be approved in the coming days by the Trump administration, would include financial assistance, direct aid and disaster loans. The assistance could be used for losses that were not covered by insurance, are of critical need and couldn’t be covered in other ways. It’s not intended to restore damaged property to its condition before the disaster, according to FEMA.

Most disaster assistance is provided in the form of loans administered by the Small Business Administration.

Shelby’s discussion with Trump comes after U.S. Sen. Doug Jones urged President Donald Trump last week to push for approval of the individual assistance grants for Alabamians impacted by Hurricane Michael. Jones also supported agriculture assistance in a separate letter to the Department of Agriculture.

Neighboring counties in Florida and Georgia have already received IA grants.

Hurricane Michael was one of the most powerful hurricanes to make landfall in the continental United States, causing more than $204 million in estimated agriculture losses and $307 million in estimated economic losses in Alabama, according to a report from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System at Auburn University.

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National

Jones co-sponsors bipartisan bill to address growing chronic wasting disease problem

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, joined Sens. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, and Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, in introducing legislation to authorizes a special resource study to determine how chronic wasting disease (CWD) spreads and could be prevented in deer and elk.

CWD can affect both wild and domestic herds of deer and elk in 25 states. However, state recommendations for preventing the spread of the disease vary. This bill would give state wildlife agencies and wildlife experts information to conduct targeted research on how the disease is transmitted, determine which areas are most at risk, and develop consistent advice for hunters to prevent further spread.

“As an avid outdoorsman and hunter, I am deeply troubled by the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease,” said Senator Jones. “This disease is threatening to impact the wildlife population in Alabama just as it has in a number of other states throughout the country. That’s why it is so vital for the Senate to pass legislation that will ultimately give state and local wildlife officials the tools they need to contain the spread of CWD.”

“Chronic wasting disease has negatively affected white-tailed and mule deer in Wyoming for decades,” said Senator Barrasso. “To protect our wildlife populations and our hunters, we need to know more about how this disease is spread and which areas are most at risk. Our bill gives wildlife managers the tools they need to research and identify exactly where chronic wasting disease is most prominent and how we can better prevent it. It’s a critical first step to addressing this debilitating disease and keeping our wildlife herds healthy.”

“The deer and elk herds affected by Chronic Wasting Disease are a critical part of Colorado’s wildlife heritage and economy,” said Senator Bennet. “We need to learn more about containing CWD, and this bipartisan legislation will provide the information state wildlife professionals need to align their work and prevent further spread.”

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Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming), Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), John Thune (R-South Dakota), Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), and Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) cosponsored the legislation.

The “Chronic Wasting Disease Transmission in Cervidae Study Act” addresses the needs identified by state wildlife agencies. The bill requires the USDA secretary to enter into an arrangement with the National Academies of Sciences to review current data and best management practices (BMPs) from the CWD Herd Certification Program and state agencies regarding: the pathways and mechanisms for CWD transmission; the areas at risk and geographical patterns of CWD transmission; and gaps in current scientific knowledge regarding transmission to prioritize research to address gaps.

In October the second confirmed case of CWD positive deer was found in Mississippi. The most recent deer was in Pontotoc County. CWD is the most devastating disease facing the deer population today. Alabama has 1.75 million deer. Currently the state is CWD free; Mississippi was CWD free until this summer.

Mississippi Wildlife officials report that an emaciated 1.5-year-old, free-ranging male white-tailed deer was euthanized on October 8, 2018. The deer’s behavior appeared abnormal. The sample was confirmed CWD-positive by the National Veterinary Services Lab in Ames, Iowa, on October 30, 2018. This is the second case of CWD documented in Mississippi.
Alabama’s WFF has tested nearly 8,000 deer since 2002 and has not detected CWD within Alabama.

As part of WFF’s CWD Strategic Surveillance and Response Plan, WFF will increase its CWD surveillance sampling efforts beyond typical surveillance rates in those counties within the 50-mile radius of the Pontotoc County CWD-positive white-tailed deer. These counties include Franklin, Lamar, and Marion counties.

Additional samples for these counties including, but not limited to, voluntary samples from hunter-harvested deer as well as focused efforts on road kills and abnormally behaving deer.

CWD is a neurodegenerative disease found in most deer species, including moose, elk, mule deer and white-tailed deer. It is infectious and always fatal. It is part of a group of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies and is similar to mad cow disease in cattle and scrapie in sheep. These diseases cause irreversible damage to brain tissue that leads to neurological symptoms, emaciation and death of the animal.

Deer infected with CWD can become emaciated, lethargic, have abnormal behavior, and show gradual loss of bodily functions. Other signs include excessive salivation, loss of appetite, progressive weight loss, excessive thirst and urination, and drooping head/ears.

Because it is a prion disease, contact with the spinal and brain tissue of a deer carcass can spread the disease to uninfected deer. To prevent the spread of the disease into Alabama it is now forbidden to import the complete carcasses from members of the cervid family (deer, elk, moose, caribou, etc.) from any other state and Canada.

The rules requires that hunters should completely debone the animal and remove and dispose of any brain or spinal tissue from skull plates, raw capes and hides before returning to Alabama. Those skull plates must be free of any brain or spinal cord material. Velvet-covered antlers are also included in the prohibited materials. Root structures and other soft tissue should also be removed from all teeth. Finished taxidermy products and tanned hides are not affected by the ban.

Overhunting resulted in the near extinction of deer in Alabama by 1905, when there were less than 2,000 deer living in the state, until the state of Alabama and a collection of private landowners in south Alabama stepped in to protect the species. The wolf, bison, elk, cougar, passenger pigeon were all wiped out in Alabama by overhunting. From those humble beginnings, the Alabama Conservation Department, restocked the rest of the state, with most of the restocking done in the 1950s and 1960s.

Gun season for deer in Alabama begins on Saturday and continues until February 10.

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Elections

Secretary Merrill orders election workers not to count write-in votes

Brandon Moseley

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The Secretary of State’s office announced Thursday that no county needs to count the write-in ballots for the general election.

In a statement the Secretary of State’s office wrote: “State law requires the Secretary of State’s Office to review county vote totals and compare those totals to the number of write-in votes cast in each statewide race involving a Federal or State office. Following the completion of that review, the Secretary of State’s Office is tasked with determining whether the total number of write in votes is less than the difference in votes between the candidates receiving the greatest number of votes for that office.”

“Secretary Merrill and his team have completed a review of the offices and it has been determined that no county is required by law to count and report write-in votes for any State or Federal office as provided in Alabama Code Section 17-6-28.”

County election officials must still make this determination for any county offices not included in the Secretary of State’s review.

The final vote totals as certified by the County Canvassing Board are due to the Secretary of State’s Office by Friday, November 16, 2018.

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Chad “Chig” Martin and Chris Countryman both ran write-in campaigns for governor.

Allowing write-in votes slows the process of counting the votes down considerably as those ballots would have to be pulled out and counted manually.

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DA Greg Griggers shot in Demopolis

Brandon Moseley

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The District Attorney for Marengo, Greene and Sumter Counties, Greg Griggers, was ambushed outside of his Demopolis office by a suspect Thursday. The attempted assassin was killed by law enforcement according to Demopolis Police Chief Tommie Reese.

Griggers is the DA for Judicial Circuit 17 District Attorney. Authorities are reporting that Griggers was ambushed as he sat in his vehicle outside of his Demopolis office Thursday afternoon. Griggers has been rushed to the hospital where he in stable condition and is expected to survive.

Griggers has served as the elected prosecutor for Alabama Judicial Circuit 17 since 2003.

The Alabama Political Reporter spoke with Barry Matson, the Executive Director of the Alabama District Attorney’s Association.

“We are very concerned for Greg,” Matson said. “All the district attorneys are. There are prayer chains in every office in the state.”

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Matson said that he was en route to the hospital where Griggers is being treated.

Matson said that he talked with Griggers after he got out of surgery and the DAs Association has promised that his office will “Have everything they need to pursue justice and fulfill his oath of office.”

“Greg is a good guy and a great prosecutor,” Matson said. “Our Association is proud to have him as part of our group.”

Michael Jackson, the district attorney for Alabama’s 4th Judicial Circuit, had identified the shooter as a former state trooper. Matson confirmed that to APR, but did not know further details.

“Griggers got shot in the face and they killed the ex-state trooper who shot him,” Jackson told AL.com Thursday afternoon.

Jackson said that Griggers should live: “They say he’s going to recover.”

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said on Twitter, “Praying for the recovery of Greg Griggers, District Attorney for the 17th Judicial Circuit, a who suffered a gunshot wound today. Greg is both a friend and a tremendous public servant. Keeping him and his family in our thoughts.”

U.S. Attorney Jay Town said in a statement, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Greg and his family. District Attorney Griggers is a dedicated public servant and an honorable man. This serves as yet another reminder of the perils and dangers that law enforcement at every level face daily.”

Original reporting by the Alabama Media Group’s Connor Sheets, Channel 23 TV’s Chelsea Barton, and the Tuscaloosa News contributed to this report.

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Rep. Jack Williams, former ALGOP Chairman arrested on federal public corruption charges

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 4 min
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