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Roberson and Gilbert both found guilty of federal corruption charges

Brandon Moseley

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Friday a federal jury today convicted prominent Birmingham attorney  Joel Iverson Gilbert and Drummond Coal executive David Lynn Roberson in a scheme to bribe a state legislator to use his office to lead efforts opposing proposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) actions in north Birmingham.

The convictions in the federal corruption trial were announced by U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town, FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp Jr. and Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation, Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Holloman.

The jury returned its verdicts after deliberating about 12 hours following more than three weeks of testimony before U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon. The jury found that Balch & Bingham partner Gilbert, age 67, and Drummond Company Vice President of Government and Regulatory Affairs Roberson, age 46, guilty of bribing then Alabama state Representative Oliver Robinson (D-Birmingham) to advocate for their employers’ opposition to EPA’s prioritization or expansion of the north Birmingham Superfund site. The indictment claims that the bribe came in the form of a lucrative consulting contract that paid Robinson $360,000 through his Oliver Robinson Foundation, a non-profit organization, between 2015 and 2016.
Drummond Company was a client of the Birmingham-based Balch & Bingham law firm.

The jury found Gilbert and Roberson guilty of bribery, honest services wire fraud, conspiracy, and money laundering conspiracy.

Rep. Robinson pleaded guilty in September to the conspiracy, bribery, wire fraud, and tax evasion.

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“This case was not about the EPA,” Town said. “This case was not about pollution. This was a case about greed at the expense of too many.  The findings of guilt for these three individuals, by trial or plea, should forewarn anyone who would be corruptly motivated to act in similar unlawful interest. Voters deserve public officials who seek to represent them honestly and fairly. When elected officials, corporate executives or their lawyers violate our federal laws, they should expect to suffer the fate of these three guilty defendants. We appreciate the dedication of the federal agencies that worked tirelessly on this case.”

“Public corruption continues to be the top criminal priority for the FBI and those who violate the public’s trust must be held accountable,” Sharp said. “As long as corruption and greed exists, the FBI will work to bring them to the bar of justice.”

EPA had designated an area of north Birmingham, including the neighborhoods of Harriman Park, Fairmont and Collegeville, as a Superfund site after finding elevated levels of arsenic, lead and benzo(a)pyrene during soil sampling. In September 2013, EPA notified five companies, including Drummond-owned ABC Coke, that they could potentially be responsible for the pollution. Such a finding could have cost the company tens of millions of dollars in cleanup costs and fines.

EPA also proposed expanding the size of the Superfund site to include Tarrant and Inglenook.

In September 2014, EPA proposed adding the site, designated the 35th Avenue Superfund Site, to its National Priorities List, signaling that it required priority attention. Placement on the priorities list would have allowed EPA to use the federal Superfund Trust Fund to conduct long-term cleanup at the site, provided the State of Alabama agreed to pay 10 percent of the costs.

Roberson and Gilbert found powerful allies from both political parties in opposing EPA’s plans.

According to evidence at trial, Gilbert and Roberson were intent on protecting ABC Coke and Drummond from the tremendous potential costs associated with being held responsible for pollution in the 35th Avenue site. As part of their strategy to accomplish that goal, they began working to prevent expansion of the site or its placement on EPA’s priority list.

The defendants hired Robinson, whose legislative district adjoined the Superfund site, to persuade north Birmingham residents and governmental agencies to oppose EPA’s actions. According to documents and testimony, Balch made the payments to Robinson’s foundation, and then invoiced Drummond or the Alliance for Jobs and Economy, a tax-exempt organization whose account the defendant controlled, for reimbursement. At Gilbert’s and Roberson’s request, the invoices Balch sent to Drummond and to AJE were scrubbed of any reference to the Oliver Robinson Foundation.

One of Robinson’s first tasks was to appear before the Alabama Environmental Management Commission (AEMC) and the director of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) in February 2015 to advance the opposition to EPA’s plan. Robinson urged the AEMC to “narrow the list” of parties potentially responsible for the pollution in north Birmingham and argued that the Superfund designation or placement of the NPL could harm property values of residents in the area.

Robinson went before the AEMC as a state legislator and concealed from its members that Balch & Bingham and Drummond were paying him to represent their interests, according to testimony and other evidence.  Rep. Robinson also failed to inform EPA officials in an earlier meeting that he was working for Drummond and Balch & Bingham. Gilbert provided Robinson with talking points for that meeting, which Robinson secretly recorded and then provided the recording to Gilbert, according to testimony.

Evidence also showed that, in June 2015, Robinson voted, as a member of the Alabama House Rules Committee, to send to the floor an anti-EPA resolution that Gilbert had drafted. Gilbert prepared the resolution for the Alabama legislature knowing that Robinson would have a vote on it, at a time when Robinson’s foundation was working on a retainer contract with Balch.

The case against a fourth defendant, Balch & Bingham attorney Steve McKinney was dismissed by Judge Kallon.

The jury found Roberson guilty even though Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, and Alabama Coal Association head George Barber testified as character witnesses for the Drummond executive.

The decades old industrial pollution in the area was discovered by environmentalist with GASP.  GASP has been advocating for the residents of the area, many who claim that their health ailments are related to the pollution in the air and the soil.  GASP brought these concerns to the EPA who agreed.  Their advocacy however has largely fallen on deaf ears with state of Alabama officials.

GASP Executive Director Michael Hanson told the Alabama Political Reporter, “Today was a great day for the people of north Birmingham and all of Alabama. It is rare that corruption is held to account, and it’s even more rare that those who do the corrupting are held accountable. And while we are thrilled about the fact that justice was upheld for the people of north Birmingham, we are cognizant of the fact that this is not the end, but rather a beginning.”

According to testimony from the trial, then Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange (R) then Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R), Senate Rule Committee Chair Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia, other Balch & Bingham attorneys and partners, other Drummond executives, other area companies that donated to the Robinson charity, Birmingham head of the NAACP Hezekiah Jackson, and overwhelming bipartisan majorities of both Houses of the Alabama legislature were all involved with the three conspirators here in a greater effort to block EPA’s plans for the north Birmingham area, which tests high for the pollutants.  The political effort to limit EPA’s actions in North Birmingham, which has been widely reported on in the media, was not on trial here.

Town told APR that there was no wider criminal conspiracy and that only Roberson, Gilbert, and McKinney (who has since been dismissed from this case) had any knowledge of the actual corruption conspiracy with Rep. Robinson and that even other partners at Balch & Bingham and the other executives at Drummond had no knowledge of that criminal conspiracy.  No further indictments are expected.

Robinson resigned from the legislature in 2016, citing a conflict of interest created by his daughter being hired by Gov. Bentley to advance the governor’s legislative agenda.  Robinson pled guilty in 2017 and agreed to work with federal prosecutors.  His testimony in this trial was critical in implicating Roberson and Gilbert.

Judge Kallon will set a date for Roberson and Gilbert’s sentencing.  At Roberson’s advanced age, he could potentially spend the rest of his life in prison.

GASP has pending civil litigation and the EPA is likely to also take administrative action based on Friday’s convictions.

The 35th Avenue Superfund site still has not been prioritized.

 

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Motion seeks donors info from Bentley’s “girlfriend fund”

Bill Britt

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A motion to compel disgraced former Gov. Robert Bentley to provide donors and contributions to the political nonprofit that paid his girlfriend was filed in Montgomery Circuit Court on Monday in the wrongful termination suit brought by former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Spencer Collier.

Collier is seeking information on donations to ACEGOV a 501(c)(4) set-up to promote Bentley’s political agenda by then-General Counsel Cooper Shattuck in February 2015.

One prominent question is whether donations to ACEGOV were intended to influence the state’s felony case against Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard.

Collier was fired from his position at ALEA after he refused to lie to prosecutors in the Hubbard case as Bentley had ordered him to do.

The germ of Collier’s firing grew out of actions taken by Hubbard’s attorney Lance Bell who  in January 2016 contacted ALEA to arrange for attorney and radio host Baron Coleman to issue a complaint accusing prosecutor Matt Hart of leaking grand jury information. Bell’s actions are recounted in an affidavit by Hal Taylor current ALEA Secretary. The matter was dismissed by Hubbard’s trial judge Jacob Walker III.

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Among ACEGOV expenditures was a payment of  $2,500 per month plus expenses to Bentley’s paramour, Rebekah Caldwell Mason’s, company, RCM Communications, Inc., who is also a defendant in Collier’s lawsuit. Bentley testified that Mason was also being paid through his 2014 Campaign, even two years after the election.

In Montgomery, ACEGOV was widely known as the “girlfriend fund,” because it was used to pay Bentley’s former special advisor, Mason.

“The fact that a portion of these contributions were used by ACEGOV to pay Bentley’s girlfriend, a co-defendant in this case, is clearly relevant to this case,” states Collier’s motion. “The requested information goes directly to the pattern and practice claims, the potential bias between Bentley and Mason and punitive damages.”

Collier argues he is entitled to know if any money funneled to Mason through ACEGOV came from Hubbard supporters, which would go to Bentley’s motive to destroy him.

In essence, it’s believed that ACEGOV was a honey hole to curry favors with Bentley who then may have acted to benefit donors.

In a recent deposition, Bentley admitted that he solicited contributions to ACECOV from various people. However, other than Franklin Haney, “Bentley refused to identify any other donor or the amount of donations claiming the information was somehow privileged because ACEGOV is a 501(c)(4), according to Collier’s motion.

Haney reportedly contributed $300,000 to Bentley after the 2014 election. Bentley later encouraged the TVA and others to sell the Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant in northeast Alabama to Haney.

Collier is not asking for records from ACECOV; he is merely asking that Bentley be compelled to testify to his personal knowledge about donors and contributions he solicited for the non-profit.

“Bentley was not an incorporator of ACEGOV, was never on its Board and never represented the 501(c)(4) in an official capacity,” according to Collier’s motion.

This motion to compel is the latest in a round of legal wrangling where the state has paid upwards of $300,000 to defend Bentley.

Gov. Kay Ivey in campaign advertisements says she cleaned up Bentley’s mess. However, her administration has done nothing to end the lawsuits which resulted from Bentley’s failed tenure as governor.

 

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Ivey reports successful first year for “Strong Start, Strong Finish” education initiative

Brandon Moseley

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Monday Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) reported progress on her Strong Start, Strong Finish (SSSF) education initiative that she announced on July 26, 2017.

Governor Ivey launched Strong Start, Strong Finish to integrate Alabama’s early childhood education, K-12 education and workforce development efforts into a seamless educational journey. SSSF is composed of three major strategies: Pre through Three; Computer Science for Alabama (CS4AL); and Advanced Training, Better Jobs.

The Pre through Three initiative focuses on ensuring the Alabama First Class Pre-K program is available to all families who choose to participate and ensuring that all of Alabama’s third graders are proficient readers by 2022.

CS4AL will ensure that a computer science course is offered at all of Alabama’s middle and high schools by 2022.

Advanced Training, Better Jobs will prepare 500,000 more Alabamians to enter the workforce with high-quality postsecondary degrees, certificates or credentials by 2025.

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Over the past year, Governor Ivey has secured progress toward each of her ambitious SSSF goals in the following ways.

Governor Ivey reports that under her leadership, investment in First Class Pre-K has grown in one year from $77.5 to $96 million. The $18.5 million increase in 2018 was the largest ever single-year increase in program funding approved by the Legislature.

Jn the 2018-2019 school year, First Class Pre-K will officially break the 1,000 classroom mark for the first time with 1,040 classrooms serving 18,720 four-year-olds, which will reach 35 percent of the eligible four-year-old population.

In December 2017, Governor Ivey announced that Alabama received a $1.5 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to support the launch of the Pre-K-3rd Grade Integrated Approach to Early Learning pilot program (“P-3”), starting with 35 classrooms in 2017-2018. The program will grow to 75 classrooms in the upcoming 2018-2019 school year.

Gov. Ivey empaneled a diverse, 100-member Executive Team to assist in establishing 11 regional councils that will recruit a host of local campaigns for grade-level reading. The Executive Team met for the first time in June 2018, and the team will begin establishing the regional councils and recruiting local campaigns during the fall of 2018.

During the 2018 Legislative Session, Ivey secured a $4 million increase for the Alabama Reading Initiative (ARI), which will be used to refocus ARI on grades K-3 and to reinforce the gains produced by the First Class Pre-K program.

During the summer of 2018, Ivey established the Alabama Summer Achievement Program (ASAP) for students who are reading below grade level proficiency in grades 1, 2, and 3. Governor Ivey created an ASAP pilot program at four elementary schools in Montgomery County, serving hundreds of children, with plans for expansion in the summer of 2019.

In 2016, only 86 schools in Alabama offered a high-quality computer science course. Today, more than 175 Alabama high schools offer such classes. In September 2017, Governor Ivey established the Governor’s Advisory Council for Computer Science Education.

In March 2018, Governor Ivey and the Alabama State Board of Education approved the Alabama Digital Literacy and Computer Science Course of Study and Standards. Currently, only 10 other states in the nation have computer science standards.

Gov. Ivey also worked to secure $300,000 for computer science professional development for middle and high school teachers, during the 2018 Legislative Session.

On April 2, 2018, Governor Ivey championed and signed legislation creating the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering.

Based in Huntsville and scheduled to open during the fall of 2020, the school will be a destination magnet school that will also serve as the hub for computer science professional development in Alabama.

On April 30, 2018, the Attainment Committee issued the Success Plus Plan for post-secondary attainment. Based on those recommendations, Governor Ivey set the statewide post-secondary attainment goal of adding 500,000 highly-skilled Alabamians to the workforce by 2025.
To achieve that goal, and in light of the recent reauthorization by Congress of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, Governor Ivey is working to increase the efficiency of our workforce development programs to meet Alabama’s growing economic demands and to incentivize more private-sector partners to offer apprenticeships.

The Jobs for Alabama’s Graduates (JAG) program has grown from 23 to 29 programs in 2018 alone. Ivey worked to secure a $250,000 increase in the state appropriation for JAG, which provided funds for four new programs in Tuscaloosa, Morgan County, Madison County and Wilcox County. Governor Ivey also utilized federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) monies to establish two additional JAG programs in Geneva County and Montgomery County.

Governor Ivey said that she is happy with the progress thus far, but plans to further work toward these goals and continue to strive for improvement in Alabama’s education system.

Gov. Ivey inherited one of the worst educational systems in the country. Gov. Robert Bentley (R) admitted to the state’s economic development association that: “Our schools suck.” But struggled to roll out a plan to change that. Ivey is a former educator who has worked in the classroom.

Upon being elevated to Governor on April 2017, Ivey has prioritized improving education in the state and upgrading the state’s workforce development.

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Kavanaugh decision dominates Doug Jones town hall

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Alabama) held his second town hall as a U.S. Senator at Birmingham’s historic Parker High School.

Jones was elected largely due to the enormous turnout among Black voters.

“It was because of the incredible work that you did that I am here as the first Democratic Senator to represent Alabama in 25 years,” Jones told the crowd.

“I want to be able to listen,” Jones said. “Some of you have questions and some of you have comments.”

Many of the comments and questions were about how Jones would vote on the confirmation of Donald J. Trump’s (R) U.S. Supreme Court appointee, Brett Kavanaugh.

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Kavanaugh would fill the seat of Justice Anthony Kennedy who retired this summer. Kennedy was often the swing vote between the four strict constructionist Justices and the four liberal Justices.

“I am doing a lot of work on the Supreme Court nominee,” Jones said. “He will be there for life twenty, thirty years, maybe more, we do not know.”

Jones said that it is the job of the Senate to advise and consent on judicial appointments and that he takes that responsibility very seriously.

Jones said that the Judiciary should be independent of politics. “He (the President) is not supposed to have a team on the judiciary.”

Jones asked what was the vote when Justice Antonin Scalia was confirmed. 98 to 0.

On Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, Jones said that the Senate is looking at all of his opinions, including his dissents as well as his work for the Bush presidency and his work with the Whitewater Investigation. The archives have said that even some of what Chairman Grassley (R-Iowa) has requested won’t be ready until October.

“Candidly I am disappointed that we are moving so quickly on a hearing,” Sen. Jones said. “Unfortunately the Democrats do not control the calendar.”

“I am going to do an independent review,” Jones said. “I thought I could get through 2018 without seeing another Doug Jones commercial.”
Jones said that the people who paid for the TV commercials to influence his vote have wasted their money.

A vocal Kavanaugh opponent holding a large heart shaped pillow interrupted the Senator.

“We love you, but you have enough information. Vote NO,” she screamed. After the woman would not calm down or stop repeating herself she was removed from the venue.

“I am going to look at all of the information so I will be able to justify my opinion,” Sen. Jones said. Jones acknowledged that a lot of people were going to be upset no matter how he decided.

One citizen asked Jones how he could consider confirming Kavanaugh after decisions he made against the Affordable Care Act.

“I will answer that question after I meet with him,” Sen. Jones said. “Everything about his record is fair game.”

“I have read a number of his opinions, not all of them yet,” Jones said. “I am not prepared to say what I am going to do on Kavanaugh or give any indication of what I am going to do. I have reached out to meet with him as soon as those hearings are done.”

One man said that the majority of Alabamians support the confirmation of Kavanaugh. How could you vote different that the majority of Alabamians?

“I am going to exercise an independent view,” Jones said. “Most of those constituent views are based on 30 second TV ads.” “My vote is going to be based on what I believe. I am going to be an independent voice for Alabama and that is what I intend to do come Hell or highwater.”

Doug Jones was elected in a special election on December 12. Jones is a former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama. He has practiced law in Birmingham for 15 years after leaving the Justice Department.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will be holding hearings on Kavanaugh’s confirmation in September.

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Elections

Sewell, Gowdy, others introduce bill to strengthen election infrastructure against cyberattacks

Brandon Moseley

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Friday, four members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) introduced the Secure Elections Act, which would provide local communities and state governments with the resources needed to strengthen election systems against cyberattacks.

The bill was introduced by Reps. Tom Rooney (R-Florida), Terri Sewell (D-Selma), Trey Gowdy (R-South Carolina), and Jim Himes (D-Connecticut). All four of them have played a role in the HPSCI investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

“Our democracy is our nation’s greatest asset and it is our job to protect its integrity,” said Rep. Sewell. “We know from our Intelligence Community that Russian entities launched cyberattacks against our election infrastructure in 2016, exploiting at least 21 state election systems. As the 2018 elections approach, action is urgently needed to protect our democracy against another attack. Today’s bipartisan bill takes a huge step forward by providing election officials with the resources and information they need to keep our democracy safe.”

“Although the Russian government didn’t change the outcome of the 2016 election, they certainly interfered with the intention of sowing discord and undermining Americans’ faith in our democratic process,” Rep. Rooney said. “There’s no doubt in my mind they will continue to meddle in our elections this year and in the future.”

The sponsors say that the Secure Elections Act would allow states and local jurisdictions to voluntarily apply for grants to replace outdated voting machines and modernize their elections systems. The bill also streamlines the process the federal government uses to share relevant cybersecurity threat information with state and local governments.

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The Senate version of the Secure Elections Act was introduced in March by Sens. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota).

Sen. Lankford addressed the U.S. Senate on the Secure Elections Act.

“We have to be able to have better communication between the federal government and states, a better cybersecurity system, and the ability to be able to audit that,” Lankford said. “That is why Senator Klobuchar and I have worked for months on a piece of legislation called the Secure Elections Act. That piece of legislation has worked its way through every state looking at it and their election authorities. We’ve worked it through multiple committee hearings. In fact, recently just in the last month, two different hearings with the Rules Committee. It is now ready to be marked up and finalized to try to bring to this body.”

“I have zero doubt the Russians tried to destabilize our nation in 2016 by attacking the core of our democracy,” Lankford said. “Anyone who believes they will not do it again has missed the basic information that is how day, after day, after day, in our intelligence briefings. The Russians have done it the first time. They showed the rest of the world the lesson in what could be done. It could be the North Koreans next time. It could be the Iranians next time. It could be a domestic activist group next time. We should learn that lesson, close that vulnerability, and make sure that we protect our systems in the days ahead.”

Rep. Sewell is also the lead sponsor of the SHIELD Act and the E-Fellows Security Act, two bills which would strengthen cybersecurity on federal, state, and local campaigns.

Rep. Terri A. Sewell is serving her fourth term representing Alabama’s 7th Congressional district. She sits on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and was recently appointed to the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. Sewell is a Chief Deputy Whip and serves on the prestigious Steering and Policy Committee of the Democratic Caucus. She is also a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, and serves as Vice Chair of the Congressional Voting Rights Caucus, and Vice Chair of Outreach for the New Democrat Coalition.

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Roberson and Gilbert both found guilty of federal corruption charges

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 7 min
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