By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Report
On Tuesday Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange (R) announced that both former State Senator Lowell Barron (D) from Fyffe, and Barron’s former campaign staffer, Rhonda Jill Johnson, have been arrested for violating Alabama’s Ethics Law and the Fair Campaign Practices Act.
Senator Barron was long considered to be the most powerful member of the old Democrat led Alabama Senate until he was defeated by Republican newcomer Shadrack McGill from Woodville in the 2010 election when Alabama voters elected a Republican super majority in both houses.
The Alabama AG’s Special Prosecutions Division headed by Matt Hart presented evidence to a DeKalb County grand jury alleging misconduct by Barron and Ms. Johnson. On Friday, April 19 the Grand Jury returned six indictments. ‘The Alabama Political Reporter’ has previously reported that according to our sources several grand juries have been empaneled to look at allegations of potentially illegal campaign practices by both Republicans and Democrats in the state of Alabama during the 2010 election. This is the first of those grand juries to actually return indictments against anyone.
Ms. Johnson, 47, was arrested by the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office and agents of the Attorney General’s Office. Sen. Barron, 71, turned himself in at the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday.
Sen. Barron is represented by prominent Alabama defense attorney, Mike Espy. Espy told Al.com, “Obviously we are going to vigorously defend this thing.” Espy said that Barron took no public money and that this prosecution was only brought to prevent Senator Barron from running for reelection.
The Grand Jury found that the AG’s office has presented enough evidence to charge both Barron and Johnson with one count of violating State Ethics law for converting a $2,000 check from the Barron for Senate campaign account to Jill Johnson for personal use.
Similarly count 2 charges both Barron and Johnson with violating Alabama’s State Ethics law by converting a $50,000 check from the Barron for Senate campaign account to Jill Johnson for her personal use.
Both Barron and Johnson were also charged with violating the Fair Campaign Practices Act for the $2,000 check which Johnson received from the Barron for Senate campaign account. Similarly both Barron and Johnson were indicted with one count of violating the Fair Campaign Practices Act for that $50,000 check which the state claims was given to Jill Johnson for non-campaign purposes.
Similarly Barron and Johnson were both charged with violating the Fair Campaign Practices Act for improperly transferring the title to a 2007 Toyota Camry owned by the campaign to Jill Johnson allegedly for her personal use.
The Grand Jury also indicted both Barron and Johnson with violating the Fair Campaign Practices Act by transferring another excess campaign contribution to Ms. Johnson with a $6,000 check written on the Barron for Senate campaign account.
The Attorney General’s office has said that no further information about the investigation or about Barron’s or Johnson’s alleged crimes will be released at this time.
If found guilty both Barron and Johnson could get up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $30,000 for each of the six counts in the indictment.
Senator Barron was formerly the President Pro Tempore of the Alabama Senate. He had been planning to challenge McGill for his old Senate seat; but he was seriously injured in a tractor accident last fall which he is still recovering from. Senator Barron made national healdlines when he was punched by former Senator Charles Bishop (R) on the floor of the Alabama Senate.
Attorney General Strange commended Special Prosecutions Division Chief Matt Hart, Assistant Attorney Generals Bill Lisenby Jr. and Pete Smyczek, as well as agents of the Attorney General’s Special Prosecutions Division for their work on this case.