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Who Knew What And When: Wren’s Statement of Facts

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
 
MONTGOMERY— An investigation of a major political scandal asks the same set of questions: “Who knew what and when.”
 
When considering the recent arrest, conviction and plea agreement of disgraced lawmaker, Greg Wren R-Montgomery, the questions to ask are, “Who knew about the plan to place language into the 2013 House General Fund Budget that guaranteed that American Pharmacy Cooperative Inc., (APCI) would become the sole provider for a Pharmacy Benefit Plan for the State’s then $600,000,000 Medicaid program and when did they know it?
 
While it may be impossible at this time to completely answer these questions, Wren’s Statement of Facts to the State’s Attorney General’s prosecutors can offer some evidence to ponder. Wren, in a sworn statement, said that he was present at meetings at which the monopoly wording was worked out for the benefit of APCI.
 
According to Wren, these were attended by Speaker Mike Hubbard, “other legislators, legislative staff, members of the Speaker’s staff, and lobbyists affiliated with Pharm Co-op.”
 
(It is important to note that Speaker Hubbard, through his business interests, had a consulting contract with APCI and that Wren had one with an affiliate, RxAlly)
 
Who were these other legislators, legislative staff, members of Hubbard’s staff and lobbyists affiliated with APCI?
 
Ferrell Patrick is a lobbyist affiliated with APCI. According to OpenBama, Patrick, has been a registered lobbyist for APCI, since 2012.
 
Patrick is not new to criminal investigations or shady deal making. In 2005, he was involved with Bill Blount in a business venture with Alabama Utility Services. The group become a part of a criminal investigation into possible wrong doing by the company. Blount was, sentenced to prison for his quid pro quo deal with Larry Langford. In exchange for clothes and cash, Blount received a piece of Jefferson County’s sewer deals.

Patrick  was questioned by investigators, concerning Alabama Utility Services and Blount but walked away from without prosecution.
 
Patrick was also called before an FBI hearing in the lead-up to the infamous Bingo Trial, in which Ronnie Gilley and others plead guilty to buying votes for legislation favorable to gaming interests.
 
Given the fact that Patrick is listed as the sole lobbyist for APCI,  it is reasonable to assume that he could be the “Lobbyist” that Wren said was present at meeting to plan the APCI monopoly scheme.
 
Bill Eley, who serves as Director of Legislative Affairs for APCI, was formerly the executive director of the Alabama Pharmacy Association. He is an individual who may have been categorized as a lobbyist in Wren’s Statement of Facts.  Given his position with APCI it is easy to believe Eley would have known of the plan.
 
Wren’s statement says, “In or around February 2013, as a part of their efforts to influence legislation pertaining to a PBM for Medicaid, Pharm Co-op provided language (“Co-op Exclusive Language”) to Wren for inclusion in legislation.”
 
The language provided by APCI would most likely been handled by Patrick or Eley or at the very least been known by the pair.
 
Wren told investigators that he met with members of Speaker Mike Hubbard’s staff. The most likely member of Hubbard’s staff to be involved in these type of high-level meeting would have been Hubbard’s Chief of Staff Josh Blades. It is also reasonable to assume that Jason Isbell, who at the time served as legislative counsel for the House, would have been present during some of the meetings that Wren mentions.
 
As far as “other legislative staff,” that Wren said were involved in the meetings at which the exclusive language was discussed, Norris Green, Director of the Legislative Fiscal Office, (LFO) could have been someone who fit that description.
 
This could also include other staffers from the FLO as they are the ones who draft legislative budgets and related legislation. The 23 words giving APCI a monopoly over the State’s proposed Pharmacy Benefit Plan would likely have been vetted by LFO.

As for the “various legislators,” who attended meetings concern the granting of the monopoly to APCI, this becomes a more tricky and subjective matter.
 
During the 2013, Legislative session Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, served as acting Chair of the House Ways and Means General Fund committee. (Rep. Jim Barton was the Chair but was away from the session many days because he was running for a senate seat).
 
Clouse told the Alabama Political Reporter in June, 2013, that he did not recall speaking to Hubbard about the APCI exclusive language but did say that he thought that Wren had introduced the wording. Clouse is certainly a contender to be one of the “various legislators,” who was in on meeting about the APCI monopoly. That Clouse did not recall any conversation with Hubbard would seem to defy the very way that Hubbard runs the House. But for now, the statement stands.
 
The General Fund Budget, originated in the State Senate as SB143, it was approved by that body and sent to the House on  March 12, 2013.
 
The language that would have granted APCI, its monopoly was not contained in the Senate version of the bill. On the same day SB143 was transmitted to the House and received its first reading, it was  recommended to the House Ways and Means General Fund committee.
 
Republicans of interest who served on the committee were, Representatives Clouse, Wren, Wes Long and Chad Fincher. Fincher left the legislature to run for the U.S. congressional seat vacated by Jo Bonner. (Fincher did not make the primary for that race.) In November, 2013, Long announced he would not seek reelection to the legislature.
 
Wren in his Statement of Facts said, “the Speaker of the House endorsed the Co-op Exclusive Language and directed staff to add it to Medicaid’s section of the General Fund Budget.” It is reasonable to believe that the language benefiting APCI was added to the bill sometime between, March 12, 2013 and April 18, 2013 when the bill was in committee.
 
On April 23, 2013, SB143 passed the House and was sent to the Senate with the addition of the 23 words that would profit APCI added.
 
On May 2, 2013, the Senate voted to reject the House version of SB143, on a motion to non-concur introduced by Senate Budget Chair, Arthur Orr, R-Decatur.
 
The legislation was sent to conference committee to resolve the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.
 
Senate Republican members of the conference committee were, Senators, Orr and Del Marsh, R-Anniston, who is also President Pro Tem of the Senate.
 
Republican House members of the conference committee were, Representatives Barton and Clouse.
It would be reasonable to assume that these individuals at least became aware of the problems facing the language to benefit APCI, during this conference committee. It is also reasonable to think that Marsh’s Chief of Staff Phillip Bryan may have had knowledge of the 23 word addition.
 
During this period Dr. Don Williamson, the acting Medicaid Director, was working to have the APCI exclusive language removed from the bill. Williamson has confirmed on several occasions that APCI was the only company that fit the criteria for the wording added to the General Fund Budget in the House. And he has in other statements said that he and Gov. Bentley wanted to study the issue before committing to any provider.
 
According to sources close to the discussion at the time, Bentley was furious over the proposal to give Hubbard’s client APCI a monopoly over the lucrative Medicaid contract.

Individuals who spoke on the grounds that they not be identified said, that the language was not stricken from the budget until the Governor threatened to publicly expose Hubbard.
 
While is it impossible to say with 100 percent accuracy who knew what and when, the statements made by Wren to the prosecutors leaves the door of speculation wide open.

 

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Vaccines should protect against mutated strains of coronavirus

Public health experts say it will be some time before vaccines are available to the wider public.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Multiple vaccines for COVID-19 are in clinical trials, and one has already applied for emergency use authorization, but how good will those vaccines be against a mutating coronavirus? A UAB doctor says they’ll do just fine. 

Dr. Rachael Lee, UAB’s hospital epidemiologist, told reporters earlier this week that there have been small genetic mutations in COVID-19. What researchers are seeing in the virus here is slightly different than what’s seen in the virus in China, she said. 

“But luckily the way that these vaccines have been created, specifically the mRNA vaccines, is an area that is the same for all of these viruses,” Lee said, referring to the new type of vaccine known as mRNA, which uses genetic material, rather than a weakened or inactive germ, to trigger an immune response. 

The U.S. Food And Drug Administration is to review the drug company Pfizer’s vaccine on Dec. 10. Pfizer’s vaccine is an mRNA vaccine, as is a vaccine produced by the drug maker Moderna, which is expected to also soon apply for emergency use approval. 

“I think that is incredibly good news, that even though we may see some slight mutations,  we should have a vaccine that should cover all of those different mutations,” Lee said. 

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Wisconsin-Madison found in a recent study, published in the journal Science, that COVID-19 has mutated in ways that make it spread much more easily, but the mutation may also make it more susceptible to vaccines. 

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In a separate study, researchers with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation found that while most vaccines were modeled after an earlier strain of COVID-19, they found no evidence that the vaccines wouldn’t provide the same immunity response for the new, more dominant strain. 

“This brings the world one step closer to a safe and effective vaccine to protect people and save lives,” said CSIRO chief executive Dr. Larry Marshall, according to Science Daily

While it may not be long before vaccines begin to be shipped to states, public health experts warn it will be some time before vaccines are available to the wider public. Scarce supplies at first will be allocated for those at greatest risk, including health care workers who are regularly exposed to coronavirus patients, and the elderly and ill. 

Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, speaking to APR last week, urged the public to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing for many more months, as the department works to make the vaccines more widely available.

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“Just because the first shots are rolling out doesn’t mean it’s time to stop doing everything we’ve been trying to get people to do for months. It’s not going to be widely available for a little while,” Harris said.

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Tuberville looks forward to public service “probably for the rest of my life”

Tuberville’s term as senator will begin on Jan. 3 when the 117th Congress is sworn in.

Brandon Moseley

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Senator-elect Tommy Tuberville during an interview with Sean Spicer on Newsmax.

U.S. Senator-elect Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama, told Newsmax’s Sean Spicer that he looks forward to the opportunity to give back to this country.

“After winning this and after being up here a couple of weeks and seeing how much of a difference we have made just to this point in the Senate has been gratifying,” Tuberville said. “I look forward to doing public service probably for the rest of my life.”

Tuberville said that he was 18 years old when the Vietnam War was coming to a close and then got into coaching so never served in the military and looks forward to the opportunity to give back to the country.

“As I went around the state of Alabama for those two years though I learned the respect of the people and how much that they want this country to remain the United States of America that we know and grew up in to go by the Constitution and those things. As I went through the campaign I got more and more fond of that I want to give back,” Tuberville said.

“I never served, I never gave back, but God was so good to me and my wife my family,” Tuberville said. “Giving back means so much to me after I was given so much for many, many years.”

Tuberville said that education will be a priority for him, getting education back to fundamentals like reading, writing, history and math. Tuberville said that unless the country gets back to fundamentals in education, “This country is not going to make it. We have got to get back to fundamentals and we are getting farther and farther every day.”

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Tuberville was the only Republican on Nov. 3 to defeat an incumbent Senate Democrat when he unseated Sen. Doug Jones.

“I want to be the voice for the people of Alabama,” Tuberville explained. “The previous Senator was a voice for his party, the Democratic party.”

Tuberville, a career college football coach, reiterated his position that we should play sports and send kids back to school despite the coronavirus global pandemic.

“I think we are doing a lot better in sports than we are doing in a lot of other areas,” Tuberville said. “I was keeping my fingers crossed back in August that we would let our young kids go play high school sports, number one, and then we get into college sports. There are so many people throwing negatives on why we should not do that. But I can tell you, you can see many more positives if we go back to school and we play sports. It’s important that we attack this virus as it has been attacking us. If it gives us an inch, we gotta take it.”

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Tuberville reiterated his opposition to shutting down restaurants, schools and businesses to fight the virus.

“We have to get back to everyday life,” Tuberville said. “You can’t keep shutting people down. Freedom is a power that we have. A power that we have earned because of our forefathers. We can’t give that up.”

Tuberville is an Arkansas native. He was the head football coach at Auburn University where he won an SEC championship, Ole Miss, Texas Tech, and Cincinnati. Prior to that, he was a national championship defensive coordinator at the University of Miami. He was also the defensive coordinator at Texas A&M.

Tuberville’s term as senator will begin on Jan. 3 when the 117th Congress is sworn in.

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National

UAB cancels third game

The only remaining game on UAB’s schedule is a game at Rice on Dec. 12.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The UAB Department of Athletics on Thursday announced that it is canceling its final home game of the season. UAB was scheduled to play Southern Mississippi on Friday at Legion Field, but the game was canceled due to continuing problems with COVID-19.

UAB has said that it will “continue to work with Conference USA on the remaining regular-season schedule.”

The only remaining game on UAB’s schedule is a game at Rice on Dec. 12.

UAB currently has a record of just four wins and three losses.

A win at Rice would guarantee the Blazers a winning season, but in this COVID altered season, a four and three or four and four record is probably good enough to be bowl eligible.

Southern Miss has had a dreadful season. They are two and seven and have two remaining games, against UTEP and Florida Atlantic. Both of those games were postponed from earlier in the season.

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Unless the season is extended a week to the 19th, there is no way for UAB and Southern Miss to make up the canceled game.

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News

Official state Christmas tree was delivered

The approximately 35-foot tree will be displayed on the front steps of the state Capitol building.

Brandon Moseley

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The 2016 state Christmas tree in front of the state Capitol.

Alabama’s official Christmas Tree was delivered to the state Capitol this week.

This year’s tree was donated by Robbins Taylor Sr. It is an Eastern Red Cedar that was grown in Letohatchee, Alabama.

The approximately 35-foot tree will be displayed on the front steps of the state Capitol building.

The tree will be adorned with lights and decorations ahead of the Christmas tree lighting ceremony on Friday, Dec. 4. Gov. Ivey’s Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at the Capitol in Montgomery.

Alabama became the first state in the nation to make Christmas an official government holiday in 1836. Christmas was declared a federal holiday in the United States on June 26, 1870.

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