By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
OPELIKA—A series of witnesses made it clear that Speaker Mike Hubbard was intimately involved in placing language into the Medicaid portion of the General Fund Budget that would give his client, American Pharmacy Cooperative, Inc. (APCI), a monopoly over the multi-million dollar Medicaid pharmacy business. That was until former Alabama Health Officer, Don Williamson, took the stand.
By all indications from the prosecution, Williamson’s testimony had significantly changed from what he had previously told them. Reliable sources say they learned Williamson’s testimony had been compromised. The two sources, who asked to remain anonymous, have informed APR that they knew Williamson was going to “walk back” his testimony 24 hours before he took the stand.
Williamson, who is currently employed by the Alabama Hospital Association, led the State Department of Health for over 20 years with an unblemished record. However, today, during his testimony about the Medicaid language, he was challenged by Deputy Attorney General Matt Hart as to why he was suddenly changing his testimony.
During direct examination by Hart, Williamson was asked to relate information about a meeting that was held in the Speaker’s Office concerning the language that had been passed in the House. Williamson said he had asked for the meeting with Hubbard because the Governor and Medicaid Commissioner Stephanie Azar had expressed an urgent need to strip the language from the Medicaid portion of the budget.
He, Hubbard, Azar, Hubbard’s Chief of Staff Josh Blades, and others were present, according to Williamson. When Hart asked Williamson to tell what happened in the meeting, his answer so shocked the veteran prosecutor that he physically reacted by spinning around on his heals toward Williamson. Williamson said Hubbard agreed to help take the controversial language out of the budget, that he was angry at lobbyist Ferrell Patrick for not telling him he was working for APCI, and that Rep. Greg Wren was the one really pushing the bill. That he, Hubbard, agreed to not place Wren on the conference committee, and that Hubbard told him he had a contract with APCI, but only for out-of-state work.
Hart then confronted Williamson as to why his story had changed from their previous interview. Williamson, crestfallen, just hung his head. He said if Hart would go back and look at his earlier statements, he believed he would see he had mentioned all of these things before. Hart then began treating Williamson as a hostile witness. He asked Williamson if he had been threatened, and if, as a lobbyist, he was afraid (pointing at Hubbard) that he might have trouble in the Legislature after giving his testimony. Hart seemed to struggle to find the right question to pin down on what had caused Williamson’s sudden turn. According to APR sources, Williamson had been threatened to change his testimony by those close to Hubbard.
Next on the witness stand was Medicaid Commissioner Azar, who was also with Williamson in the meeting. Her testimony contradicted Williamson’s.
In her recounting of the meeting with Hubbard, she said she never heard any offers to take out the language, and she never heard Hubbard say he had a contract with APCI. Azar said Hubbard’s solution to their problem was to go meet with Wren because he was the one pushing for the language.
Under cross examination by Defense Attorney Bill Baxley, Azar said Wren was resistant to make any changes to the language. Baxley asked if Wren was upset. She said he was angry and pacing around the room. He asked had she ever seen an adult act this way. She replied, “In my life I have seen adults act all kinds of ways.”
The only question Baxley continued to hammer home was asking how angry Wren was.
After court was dismissed for the day, this reporter introduced himself to a man who had been accompanying Rob Riley in court for the last two days. After identifying himself as Jeremiah Mosley, he smartly asked, “How did you like that.” I replied, “It was interesting.”
Mosley is an attorney at the Riley-Jackson firm, lead by Rob Riley.
Rob Riley did not attend Thursdays’s trial, but the previous day he had taken copious notes and conferred with Hubbard’s criminal lawyer Baxley.
After that exchange, APR confronted Azar and Williamson in front of the elevator and asked were they at the same meeting. Azar said, “Yes.”
They were next asked why their testimony were so different. Azar said, “We didn’t hear each other’s testimony.”
An unidentified attorney, who was with Williamson and Azar, said that their testimony was essentially the same. At that point, the elevator doors opened and Azar, Williamson, and the unidentified attorney walked into the elevator. As the doors were closing Williamson said, “They are attorneys. That is how they are,” to which APR said, “We are reporters. We see contradictions.”
Thinking the elevator had already descended, the APR team pushed the elevator call button and the doors reopened, with Williamson and company still inside. When we started to enter the elevator, Williamson walked out, and said he would take the stairs. He was not seen again.
APR’s sources say that other’s will “soften” their testimony due to threats or bribes from Team Hubbard.
Photo Credit: Prosecutor Matt Hart asks questions of Dr. Don Williamson during the Alabama speaker Mike Hubbard trial on Thursday, May 26, 2016 in Opelika, Ala. Todd J. Van Emst/Opelika-Auburn News/Pool Photo