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Sources: Marshall appointed AG after agreeing to investigate “rogue” prosecutors

Bill Britt and Josh Moon

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Gov. Robert Bentley appointed Steve Marshall to be Alabama attorney general after Marshall agreed to launch an investigation into Special Prosecution Division Chief Matt Hart and Acting Attorney General Van Davis, who successfully prosecuted former Speaker Mike Hubbard.

According to well-placed sources, Marshall was the only district attorney that Bentley approached who promised he would take on Hart and Davis in exchange for the appointment as attorney general.

More individuals have come forward after the Bentley grand jury investigation concluded, confirming what APR had found after months of interviews.

The final agreement to give Marshall the attorney general’s job was reached the day before Bentley appointed former Attorney General Luther Strange to fill Jeff Sessions’ seat in the U.S. Senate.

According to Bentley’s official calendar — a copy of which is now kept at the Alabama Archives — he met with Marshall on Feb. 9 at 8 a.m. That was the day before Bentley’s press conference in which he appointed Strange to the Senate.

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Official copies of Bentley schedule.


Hours after Marshall met with Bentley on Feb. 9, a high-ranking Bentley staffer commented to several people at the capitol, saying in effect, “We now have an attorney general who will get these rogue prosecutors at the AG’s office.”

On Feb. 9, just after the Strange press conference, Bentley began interviewing candidates for the AG’s position. Former deputy AG Alice Martin was his first interviewee. Marshall was his second, meeting with the governor for the second time in two days. Marshall was the only attorney general candidate to meet twice with Bentley, and he was the only candidate to meet with Bentley in the week leading up to the appointment.

The following day, on Friday, Feb. 10, 2017, after interviewing the remaining seven candidates, Bentley appointed Marshall to the position. A tweet from the governor’s Twitter account went out at 6:08 p.m., just four hours after the final interview for the job had ended.

“I was in the car driving home from my interview with Bentley when the tweet went out,” said a lawmaker who was considered a favorite for the AG slot. “I was shocked by his insincerity, he had already made his choice. We were just window dressing,” he said on background.

“We now have an attorney general who will get these rogue prosecutors at the AG’s office.”

The Attorney General’s Office denies agreeing to such a plan.

“The only assurance given to Robert Bentley by Attorney General Marshall at the time of his appointment was to enforce the law and uphold the Constitution,” a spokesman for Marshall said. “Any suggestion to the contrary is absurd and patently false.”

Marshall never launched an official investigation into Hart’s team or Davis as he promised Bentley, but what he has done is systematically undermine criminal cases and dismantle the special prosecutions unit by withholding assets and reassigning its staff to other cases unrelated to public corruption.

Marshall’s appointment is rooted in the state’s case against Republican Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, who Davis and Hart would successfully prosecute on 12 counts of felony ethics violations.

Before and during his trial, Hubbard’s cronies and legal team repeatedly accused Hart and Davis of prosecutorial misconduct, an accusation that was rejected by Lee County Circuit Court Judge Jacob Walker III who served as the trial judge in Hubbard’s case.

During the lead-up to Hubbard’s conviction on felony ethics violations, Bentley and his special advisor, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, became obsessed with Hart, believing him to be more nefarious than Hubbard.

Mason and Bentley both shared their suspicions about Hart with a growing circle including staffers, state law-enforcement officers, federal investigators and even a journalist or two. Bentley was convinced that Hart was “out to get Becca,” his pet name for his married lover, Mason.

Mason confirmed Rane’s attempts to influence Bentley to remove Hart and Davis…

The couple’s fears were egged on by Hubbard’s friends and associates who wanted Bentley to launch an investigation into Hart and Davis during the Hubbard’s pre-trial hearings.

According to a source with direct knowledge of these and other incidents, powerful businessman Jimmy Rane, CEO of Great Southern Wood, approached Bentley on more than one occasion to encourage him to stop Hart’s investigation into Hubbard. Rane would be caught up in Hubbard’s illegal activities along with other powerful business interests who are now funding Marshall’s campaign for attorney general. Mason confirmed Rane’s attempts to influence Bentley to remove Hart and Davis from Hubbard’s case and appoint a special prosecutor, according to one of Mason’s confidants at the time.

Mason’s fear and hatred of Hart took many manifestations, according to two former staffers speaking on background, the most public of which was the firing of ALEA Secretary Spencer Collier in retaliation for cooperating with the Attorney General’s investigation into Hubbard.

Over time Mason’s torment increased, and she believed she and Bentley needed to destroy Hart before he could destroy them…

During the Hubbard investigation, Mason became convinced that Hart’s team had a “hit list” of individuals they would target after Hubbard’s trial. The so-called hit list, APR confirmed, never existed except in the minds of those who were being manipulated by Hubbard’s supporters.

The alleged hit list was not something Hart had drawn-up; instead, it was a scheme executed by Hubbard’s allies to alienate Hart and turn influential individuals against him. Even after Mason was assured that no such list existed, she grudgingly demurred choosing to believe the lie perpetrated by Hubbard’s backers.

Over time, Mason’s torment increased, and she believed she and Bentley needed to destroy Hart before he could destroy them, according to those who witnessed some of the couple’s discussions. According to members of the Bentley team, the governor would angrily fume about Hart constantly as his fears grew that Hart would come after “precious Becca.”

A former law-enforcement official confirmed to APR that not only did Bentley seek an investigation by local prosecutors to go after Hart and Davis, he also asked for help from the FBI, who found no reason to pursue Bentley and Mason’s fantasy accusations against Hart and Davis.

Mason was warned before Collier’s firing that she was being played by Hubbard’s allies, who wanted her to believe she was a target. She was also advised that her actions might very well lead to her being a suspect, according to an individual who cited several conversations he had with Mason.

At an introductory press conference, the following Monday after Bentley appointed him attorney general, Marshall said he had spent the previous two days in Montgomery meeting with the AG’s office staff, but said he was unaware if Bentley was under investigation by the office. If the governor were under investigation, Marshall said, he would be forced to recuse from that investigation.

Martin, who was still serving as chief deputy AG at the time, called Marshall’s comment untrue. She said she personally informed Marshall of the Bentley investigation and provided the new AG with a “briefing packet” outlining what had been done so far.

At the time, Bentley had already testified before a grand jury in Montgomery, and Strange, Martin and Hart were all present. That investigation was honing in on Bentley’s potential misuse of state funds to facilitate and cover up his inappropriate relationship with staffer Rebekah Mason.

That investigation would, of course, lead to Bentley pleading guilty to breaking campaign finance laws and resigning as governor.

More serious charges before the grand jury investigating Bentley were dropped after it found that state statute doesn’t cover a governor using law-enforcement to threaten and intimidate for political reasons. It also found that helping your girlfriend while being governor is not illegal under current law.

 

Governor

Ivey: Pelham to resign, Bonner to take over as chief of staff

Josh Moon

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Chief of Staff Steve Pelham is officially resigning from Gov. Kay Ivey’s office, a release from the governor’s office said Tuesday morning. Former congressman Jo Bonner will take Pelham’s spot.

Pelham’s resignation was first reported by APR earlier on Tuesday.

“Steve has been a close friend and a trusted confidant for a number of years and has provided our office with outstanding leadership,” Governor Ivey said.  “When we made the transition to the Governor’s Office in 2017, Steve was responsible for leading the effort to make certain the Ivey Administration was up and running on day one.  He has maintained that level of commitment to our organization, structure and focus to details throughout our first term together.”

Bonner joined Ivey’s staff in December as an advisor — a move that seemed to be in preparation for Pelham’s eventual departure.

“Jo brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to our administration,” Ivey said, “and I know we aren’t going to miss a step as my cabinet, staff and I work, every day, to honor the support and confidence the people of Alabama gave us last November.”

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Pelham will become the new Vice President for Economic Development and Chief of Staff to Auburn University President Steven Leath in February.

 

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Governor

Sources: Ivey chief of staff set to resign

Josh Moon

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via BCA Today

Steve Pelham, the chief of staff to Gov. Kay Ivey, is planning to resign from that position later this week, multiple sources close to the governor’s office have told APR.

Pelham is expected to take a job in the Auburn University president’s office, working directly for university President Steven Leath.

He will remain with Ivey’s administration for 30 days ensuring a smooth transition.

The move is a dramatic shakeup in Ivey’s office, where Pelham was long considered one of the most influential voices. In fact, at times, people in and around the governor’s office referred to Pelham as the “acting governor,” and he was leaned on heavily by Ivey to make day-to-day decisions.

Her trust in Pelham isn’t hard to understand.

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He took over as her chief of staff when she took office as the state’s lieutenant governor in 2011. He never left her side, helping her navigate the tricky transition to governor when Robert Bentley resigned in 2017.

Pelham’s workload increased over the last year, as Ivey — already known for her tendency to work outside of the office — missed even more days while campaigning. For much of the year, Pelham was the de facto governor of the state.

It’s unclear at this point who would replace Pelham — if Ivey will look to promote from within the office or look elsewhere, perhaps seeking a strong voice to help her better communicate with lawmakers as they ready for fights over a gas tax increase and the building of new state prisons.

 

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Sheriff resigns sentencing commission in protest

Bill Britt

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Choctaw County Sheriff Scott Lolley submitted a letter of resignation to the Alabama Sentencing Commission on Jan. 7 citing his frustration over issues he says the commission board could resolve.

Specifically, Sheriff Lolley is “concerned and frustrated” that, “The vast majority of drug cases are being placed on probation, sentenced to drug courts, or the sentences are suspended for drug rehabilitation.”

Lolley, in his resignation letter addressed to Executive Director of the Alabama Sheriff’s Association Bobby Timmons, says the citizens of Choctaw County are, “being victimized and re-victimized constantly by the same drug suspects.”

He complained that, “It’s virtually impossible to sentence someone on drug charges to the Alabama Department of Corrections.” For this Lolley blames, at least in part, the sentencing guidelines that have reduced the state correctional facilities’ in-house population while leaving the burden of rearresting and housing repeat offenders to the county sheriff.

The Alabama Sentencing Commission Mission Statement reads, “The Alabama Sentencing Commission shall work to establish and maintain an effective, fair, and efficient sentencing system for Alabama that enhances public safety, provides truth-in-sentencing, avoids unwarranted disparity, retains meaningful judicial discretion, recognizes the most efficient and effective use of correctional resources, and provides a meaningful array of sentencing options.”

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Sentencing reforms have in part led to a reduction in the overall prison population. According to the latest report on file issued by ADOC in Sept. 2018, its in-house population was 20,087 inmates. ALDOC defines in-house population as, “an inmate where ADOC maintains custody of an inmate to a period of incarceration. ADOC In-House Population inmates are housed within correctional facilities owned and operated by ADOC; this includes transient inmates between correctional facilities.”

One of the goals of the sentencing commission, ADOC, as well as the state Legislature, is to reduce prison overcrowding.

Alabama’s prisons rank as some of the worst in the nation, and anyone who has toured even the best facilities will find they are old, dilapidated and nearly uninhabitable.

Legislation enacted by the Republican supermajority has dramatically reduced prison overcrowding from 198 percent capacity in 2013, to 153 percent in 2018, according to ADOC.

September ADOC statistics show the total number of in-house beds is 22,309, and it also shows a total in-house population of 20,087, which means 2,222 beds are unoccupied.

The same September ADOC report says ADOC’s in-house designed capacity is 13,318. Footnote two in the report says the 13,318 capacity is based on “Original architecural (sic) design plus renovations.”

However, ADOC personnel and those who have worked at ADOC say this statement is misleading because In-House Designed capacity means inmate capacity according to the facility’s original design and does not take into consideration additional building or other space added to existing structures in subsequent years.

As a result of Legislative intervention, the number of non-violent offenders in state prisons has been reduced dramatically, going from a prison population of 35 percent non-violent to now under 14 percent. An unintended consequence of not locking up non-violent offenders is a very violent population inside the prisons, making it more dangerous for correctional officers.

Could leasing be the answer to new state prisons?

Lolley’s dilemma illustrates that for some counties these reforms are a double-edged sword.

“Law enforcement continues to arrest the problem offenders, but the judicial system continues to place them in alternative sentencing,” writes Lolley. “This system simply does not work.”

He also says, “A chronic drug offender could be arrested anywhere from 2-15 times and never be sent to the Alabama Department of Corrections.” He also claims that sentenced state inmates are being held in the county jail for months before the Alabama Department of Corrections will accept them and that “inmates incarcerated at the Alabama Department of Corrections are receiving parole hearings and release at a ridiculous rate.”

In Nov. 2017, Gov. Kay Ivey floated the idea of leasing built-to-order prisons to reduce overcrowding and to ensure the state prisons can house offenders. There is growing support for Ivey to utilize that option rather than trying to corral lawmakers into supporting a billion dollar bond to build three mega-prisons. Ivey made solving the state’s prison problems a prominent part of her inaugural address on Monday.

Lolley was first elected Choctaw County Sheriff in 2014; he was reelected in 2018 to a second term.

 

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Opinion | Why do Alabama governors insist on taking the unpopular path?

Josh Moon

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We’re doing it again.

The same thing. We’re doing the same thing again, and hoping for a different outcome. Which I believe is the definition of insanity. And that might as well be our state motto at this point.

Alabama: The Insane State.

The state where the people continue to elect people who promise to do the same things as the last people who we hated, and who will eventually totally renege on those promises and try to do the opposite.

Case in point: Kay Ivey.

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At her inauguration on Monday, Ivey was all smiles and upbeat rhetoric. She talked of steadying the ship and putting Alabamians back to work. And she was governor while those things happened, so the rules say she gets credit, even if it’s mighty tough to pinpoint exactly what it is that she did to cause any of those good things.

But Ivey also dropped a few hints about the future.

To no one’s surprise, she discussed a gas tax without ever saying the word “tax,” and she talked about a new prison construction proposal.

Actually, neither of those ideas is “new,” and the proposals Ivey and the Legislature will put forth in the coming months won’t be new either. We’ve been talking about prisons for three years now, if not longer, and the gas tax was kicked around during the last legislative session.

And both will be met with roughly the same amount of disdain by voters this time around.

No matter how badly we might need to renovate our current prisons or build new ones, the average Alabama voter doesn’t want to do that. In fact, those voters have proven to be amazingly willing to let prisoners out of jail, if the alternative is a higher tax bill.

And on the gas tax front, yeah, that’s a big ol’ no.

I’m sorry, but you can’t set up a state income tax system that charges janitors more than CEOs, leaving the state with consistently no money to make necessary repairs to infrastructure, and then ask the working stiffs to pick up the bill for those repairs when things fall completely apart. And make them pay for it by charging them more to get to work every day.  

I don’t care that we just held elections and most lawmakers are safe for another four years. You vote for that sort of a tax on working people, and it’ll hang around your neck for the rest of your political career. What’s left of it.

If you doubt this, ask Robert Bentley.

He tried something similar. Actually, come to think of it, he was a lot like Ivey following his re-election in 2014. Very popular. Had pledged not to raise taxes. Was generally trusted by most people around the state.

And then he hit people with a proposal for a cigarette tax.

His whole world blew up from that point forward.

Because it’s not right. Taxing gas or taxing cigarettes is a coward’s tax.

It’s an admission that you know we don’t have enough revenue but you’re not brave enough to attack the real problem — to raise property taxes or restructure our state income tax.

Or to do what’s popular: Legalize gambling.

Why do Alabama Republicans continue to run from legalized gaming? It makes zero sense, considering the massive edge they hold in statewide voting and the unprecedented popularity of gambling among Republican voters.

Poll after poll shows that conservative voters in Alabama now massively favor legalizing gambling. In one of the more recent polls, more than 60 percent of likely Republican voters were in favor of a vote to legalize full-fledged casinos with sportsbooks.

And yet, Ivey, like the two governors who came before her, will stand on a stage at her inauguration and push for two completely unpopular ideas —— prisons and a gas tax — but never speak of the one subject that’s both popular and could raise enough money to pay for the infrastructure repairs. And the prisons.

So, here we are again. Another governor who thinks she can thumb her nose at the will of the people. Another governor who seems hellbent on ignoring a popular solution. Another fight that will lead to nowhere.

Insanity. That’s what it is.

 

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Sources: Marshall appointed AG after agreeing to investigate “rogue” prosecutors

by Bill Britt and Josh Moon Read Time: 6 min
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