By Lee Hedgepeth
Alabama Political Reporter
OPELIKA – Sources say two Alabama mayors were among those who appeared in the latest round of testimony at the Lee County Courthouse in Opelika, where a special grand jury investigating public corruption in the State legislature has been conducting business now for nearly a year.
Mayor Mike Schmitz of Dothan and Mayor Billy Blackwell of Ozark both provided testimony to the Lee County Grand Jury regarding their respective, consecutive roles as chairmen of the Southeast Alabama Gas District.
That quasi-private natural gas conglomerate, known as SEAGD, had Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives Mike Hubbard on their consulting payroll, with his firm Auburn Network earning a hefty $12,000 a month in compensation from February 2012 to August 2013, when the contract was terminated due to what Hubbard spokesperson Rachel Adams called “unfounded criticism being generated by politically-motivated liberal groups in Montgomery.” That same month – August of last year – the Lee County Grand Jury began its corruption investigation into Goat Hill.
The Grand Jury has already indicted Representative Barry Moore, R-Enterprise, on four felony criminal counts: two counts of perjury and two counts of misleading investigators. In a recorded phone conversation, Representative Moore relayed threats from Speaker Hubbard to his primary opponent, Joshua Pipkin, regarding the possible loss of about 100 jobs if the primary candidacy was not dropped. When asked by investigators about the conversation, according to a transcript released by the AG’s Office, Representative denied both that the Speaker made any threats and that he had relayed the threats to Pipkin.
Greg Wren, former GOP Representative from Montgomery, also took a plea deal in relation to the Grand Jury proceedings, agreeing to testify when needed, resign from office, and pay $24,000 in restitution to the Alabama General Fund in exchange for receiving only a misdemeanor charge of using public office for personal gain. Wren had illegally provided confidential Medicaid documents to a company for which he consulted, RxAlly, and favored language – intriduced and endorsed by Hubbard – that gave a monopoly for some Medicaid prescription plans to an RxAlly afilliate, APCI.
The Alabama Ethics Commission did review Hubbard’s contract with SEAGD, with its chief counsel writing that “The only potential issue that we saw would be if something came before the legislature that uniquely affected the Southeast Alabama Gas District differently that it affected all other utilities around the State of Alabama.”
While it is unclear if that situation ever arose in relation to SEAGD – and while it may be that the Grand Jury is attempting to establish if it ever did – Speaker Hubbard unquestionably did just what the Ethics Commission warned against, this time with regard to another company for which he consulted under contract – American Pharmaceutical Cooperative, Inc.
That entity, commonly known as APCI, paid the Speaker under a similar consulting contract, though he did not reveal this to Representative Wren and his other colleagues when he “endorsed” language that gave the group a monopoly over some of the state’s Medicaid prescription business.
All of that would have been okay, though, given the above quote from the Ethics Commission on the SEAGD contract, until Hubbard voted for the monopolizing language on the House floor, language that “uniquely affected” APCI, not once, but a dozen times. Hubbard, though, did not submit the APCI contract to the Commission for review, as Director Jim Sumner has said he has never reviewed the agreement.
Representatives Steve Clouse and Paul Lee were also confirmed to have testified before the Lee County Grand Jury.
Both Mayors have refused comment on the matter, as Grand Jury proceedings are kept secrecy under penalty of prosecution.
A preliminary hearing over the charges against Rep. Moore will be held later today.