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.
Governor’s chief of staff self-quarantining after wife tests positive for COVID-19
Gov. Kay Ivey’s chief of staff is self-quarantining after his wife tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week, but the governor was not exposed this week to either her chief of staff, Jo Bonner, or his wife, Ivey’s office said Friday.
“After attending a visitation with some friends in Mobile last Friday, Jo Bonner’s wife, Janee, was notified Monday morning that a number of the attendees had tested positive for COVID-19,” said Ivey’s press secretary, Gina Maiola, in a statement to APR on Friday.
“While asymptomatic and out of an abundance of caution, Janee was tested and received a positive result. Upon hearing this early Monday morning, Jo Bonner immediately self-quarantined and worked from home. He was not with the governor this week, and Janee has not been around the governor in several months. Jo is continuing to work from home and will not be back in the office until the normal CDC protocols for exposure have run,” Maiola said.
Tuberville: “There is no doubt. We have got to play football”
Former Auburn head football coach and GOP Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville said “we have got to play football” in an interview on Fox News when host Dana Perino asked Tuberville if college football should be played this year.
“Oh, there is no doubt, Dana, we have got to play football,” Tuberville said. “I know this is serious. The virus is serious. I have had friends sick in intensive care. I have actually lost a friend.”
“Let me tell you for every one person that has been sick 33 people in this country have been affected economically, socially, mentally,” Tuberville added. “We have got to get back to a normal life. We put men on the moon. We have got to be able to put our kids in a school, keep ’em protected, be socially responsible; but we have got to get back to school and a normal life.”
Tuberville warned that if we don’t get back to normal life, “our kids are the ones who are going to be affected if we don’t get back to playing football and sports and learning from each other.”
Perino asked if college athletes should be in some sort of a bubble like the NBA or Major League Baseball.
“Dana, what you got to remember is that high school kids and college kids all summer have been working with each other against each other dressing in dressing rooms,” Tuberville explained. “They have been around each other. It is like a big family. There is nobody more protected than college athletes and really high school athletes. They have got doctors. They have got ways to wash their clothes that are disinfected.”
Tuberville said that sports teams are used to dealing with infectious diseases.
“We always have to fight the flu,” Tuberville said. “He had to fight staph infections. Those things are going to be there. They are going to be there forever.”
“We have got to fight back against this virus,” Tuberville said. “If it hits us hard we have got to take a step forward, and we can’t keep moving backward. What if this thing is still with us three years from now? We have got to move this country forward and what better way than to go back to school. Protect our kids.”
“If you don’t what to go to school, you don’t have to go,” Tuberville said. “Same thing with football. If you don’t want to play you don’t have to play.”
“We have to get back to a normal life, but protection is the number one key,” Tuberville said. “And people are going to get infected and we can’t back up from it. Take em out like we did when I coached.”
Tuberville is the former head coach at Mississippi, Auburn, Texas Tech and Cincinnati.
The Ivy League, Big 10, MAC, PAC 12, SWAC and Mountain West Conferences have all voted to postpone the 2020 college football season to the spring. Many college football analysts are skeptical that there will ever be a spring season. That would mean play 22 college football games in one calendar year dramatically increasing injury risk.
The SEC, Big 12, and ACC have all announced their intention is to move forward with the college football season.
Tuberville on social media has slammed his opponent, incumbent Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, for not voicing his support for playing football this fall.
“By not voicing support for providing teams that want to play with the opportunity to play, Doug Jones has once again failed to stand with the beliefs and desires that most Alabamians hold,” Tuberville said.
Tuberville and Jones will be on the Nov. 3 General Election ballot.
ArcelorMittal announces expansion of Mobile County steel plant
ArcelorMittal announced its intention to build an Electric Arc Furnace steelmaking facility at AM/NS Calvert. Once the new furnace is completed, the planned facility will be capable of producing 1.5 million metric tonnes of steel slabs for the Hot Strip Mill and producing a broad spectrum of steel grades required for Calvert’s end-user markets.
Construction on the project is expected to take 24 months and the new facility is anticipated to produce an additional 300 jobs.
“An electric arc furnace at Calvert makes strategic sense as it allows our asset to be more reactive to the local market as well as being in line with the USMCA,” said Lakshmi Mittal, the chairman and CEO of ArcelorMittal, referring to the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement on trade which replaced NAFTA. ”Furthermore, it aligns with our ambition of producing smarter steels for a better world.”
Brad Davey is the CEO of ArcelorMittal North America.
“The addition of an EAF at AM/NS Calvert presents a transformational opportunity for what is already widely considered to be the world’s most advanced steel finishing facility,” Davey said. “This is a logical next step in optimizing AM/NS Calvert’s supply chain. Enhancing our already highly competitive lead times with short lead-time flexibility, combined with our existing world class facilities will give AM/NS Calvert a decisive competitive advantage.”
“In addition, the USMCA trade agreement is a ‘game changer’ for former NAFTA and as a result, future steel supply chains for the automotive markets will be required to use steel that was created within North America,” Davey explained. “A new EAF at AM/NS Calvert will further secure ArcelorMittal’s leadership in the North American Automotive market.”
“Alabama has a long heritage in steelmaking, and the decision by AM/NS Calvert to invest more than $500 million at its Mobile County mill represents another important development in the history of the industry in the state,” Gov. Kay Ivey said. “The growth will help the company serve customers in industries such as automotive with great ‘Made in Alabama’ steel.”
Economic developer Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter, “The United States Mexica Canada trade agreement is a historic accomplishment by the Trump Administration on behalf of the American Worker that serves as a catalyst for job creation and new investments.”
“In Alabama, we are witnessing immediate results from terms outlined in the USMCA, specifically the requirement for the automobile industry to utilize more steel made in North America, with ArcelorMittal’s announcement,” Jones added. “ArcelorMittal chose to construct a new electric arc furnace steelmaking facility at its AM/NS mill in Calvert, Alabama. Metals and advanced materials is one of our state’s dominant industries. Alabama Department of Commerce data from 2018 shows that primary metal manufacturing exports valued at nearly $1.6 billion, and fabricated metal manufacturing exports valued at $382 million. The direct and indirect jobs resulting from this project will provide significant economic benefits for South Alabama and our entire state.”
AM/NS Calvert is already the world’s most advanced steel finishing facility and further demonstrates the highly successful partnership between ArcelorMittal and Nippon Steel Corporation.
AM/NS Calvert was originally built by Thyssenkrupp, with a total investment cost of $4 billion. The plant was acquired by ArcelorMittal and NSC as a 50:50 joint venture in 2014. The joint venture has already invested more than $200 million into strategic projects in Calvert since its acquisition.
These capabilities combined with the geographic location and the new electric arc furnace will position the facility well for meeting the automotive and energy market demand well into the future.
ArcelorMittal is the world’s leading steel and mining company. It has a presence in 60 countries and operates steelmaking facilities in 18 countries. In 2019, ArcelorMittal had revenues of $70.6 billion and crude steel production of 89.8 million metric tonnes, while iron ore production reached 57.1 million metric tonnes.
ArcelorMittal says that their goal is to help build a better world with smarter steels. Steels made using innovative processes which use less energy, emit significantly less carbon and reduce costs. Steels that are cleaner, stronger and reusable. Steels for electric vehicles and renewable energy infrastructure that will support societies as they transform through this century.
Business Facilities Magazine ranks Alabama No. 4 for business climate
Alabama received high rankings for its workforce development programs and auto manufacturing strength in a new report from Business Facilities magazine, which also picked Birmingham and Huntsville as top cities for business climate.
This is the 16th installment of Business Facilities’ Annual State and Metro Rankings Report. The magazine ranked Birmingham/Hoover as the No. 1 mid-sized metro area for its business climate and Huntsville was No. 1 among small-sized metros.
Overall, Alabama ranked No. 4 for its business climate.
“Alabama’s economic development team will continue to work tirelessly to recruit high-caliber companies, and this ranking is another testament to the advantages that our state possesses for businesses across the globe,” said Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield. “One of those key advantages is our workforce training programs, which are a key component of the support system we have in place in Alabama to help companies in many different industries find and develop the skilled workers they need to achieve success.”
Economic developer Nicole Jones said, “Business Facilities Magazine is a respected publication in the field of economic development and once again recognized Alabama’s achievements in several areas: business climate, manufacturing output, workforce training leaders, automotive manufacturing and foreign trade zone export activity. Business Facilities also recognized Birmingham as the No. 1 mid-size metropolitan area for its business climate and Huntsville as No. 1 among small-size metros.”
“Economic development is a continuous process of cultivating relationships, investing in human capital, and working with communities to find their hidden talent within,” Jones explained. “Gov. Ivey, the Alabama Department of Commerce and thousands of members of the business community collaborate daily to foster an environment conducive for economic growth. We work as a team to recruit and retain business and industry, and ultimately, it is the heart and the quality of life people experience in Alabama that solidifies every project.”
Alabama’s workforce development and talent attraction programs ranked No. 2 among the states in the ranking, while Business Facilities rated Alabama’s automotive manufacturing strength No. 5.
AIDT is the state’s primary workforce development agency and is a central player in Alabama’s strategic economic growth efforts. AIDT has worked with 5,200 companies and trained nearly 1 million workers since its founding in 1971. Last year, AIDT’s economic impact on Alabama was calculated at $7 billion.
“Any success we have in Alabama regarding workforce development and talent attraction is due to a myriad of things,” said Ed Castile, the director of AIDT and deputy secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “This includes an available workforce with an extraordinary work ethic, world-class companies that choose Alabama and hire our citizens, a business-focused Governor and Legislature who are totally engaged in our workforce strategies, and a Secretary of Commerce who helped create the Accelerate Alabama strategy that is the foundation of all our work.”
“The AIDT staff is among the best in the business of both workforce development and talent attraction, and I commend them and many others involved in this work for this recognition,” Castile said. “We are very proud to be part of the ‘Made in Alabama’ and the ‘AlabamaWorks’ team.”
Business Facilities magazine also ranked Alabama No. 6 for Foreign Trade Zone activity (exports), No. 7 for manufacturing output (percentage of GDP) and No. 10 for Birmingham/Hoover (GDP leaders, mid-size MSAs).