By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
A new lawsuit filed on Wednesday against Gov. Robert Bentley and his alleged mistress and former top political aide, Rebekah Mason, reveal new details about the Governor and Mason’s alleged affair and Bentley’s alleged misuse of State funds to facilitate that affair.
Wendall Ray Lewis, the former Head of the Governor’s Security Detail and Chief of the Office of Dignitary Protection, filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Governor and Mason — alleging the pair defamed him, pushed him into early, involuntary retirement and interfered with job opportunities after Lewis left State government.
Lewis — joining a chorus of other former Bentley staffers and insiders, including former ALEA Secretary Spencer Collier — now alleges that Bentley maintained a physical affair with Mason, not just the emotional affair the Governor claims.
“Governor Robert Bentley had a physical and sexual affair with Defendant Mason,” Lewis said in his lawsuit. He said the Governor confirmed the physical affair, in person, several times, to him. Lewis and others, including top staffers and Business Council of Alabama head Bill O’Conner, pleaded with the Governor to end the affair several times as well, but “none of them succeeded,” according to the lawsuit.
The new lawsuit concurs with previous accusations from Collier and others, who claim the Governor was physically involved with Mason — that he was in love with her and couldn’t bring himself to end their relationship.
“On a couple of occasions, the Governor told Lewis that he loved Rebekah,” the lawsuit states. “One time, on the front porch of the Governor’s Tuscaloosa home, he also told [Lewis], ‘I love Dianne [Bentley]. But I love Rebekah more.’”
The unlawful termination lawsuit claims the Governor lied to the media about accusations that Lewis had overused overtime pay, sullying his name. Eventually, Lewis says, Bentley and Mason forced him to retire early and, after his retirement, worked to impede future job opportunities with the University of Alabama and Alabama Power.
Lewis is seeking full compensation for the financial damages he says he endured.
Bentley, in a statement released on Thursday, categorically denied all of Lewis’s allegations:
“The outrageous claims are based on worn-out internet rumors, fake news and street gossip. These bogus claims are an attempt to smear my Administration, to distract from the important matters facing our State, and to attempt to assign wrongdoing where it does not exist.
I have wholeheartedly rejected this attempt and will not allow the people of this State nor my family to be exploited.
Because I have rejected his claim, Mr. Lewis has now unfortunately chosen to publicly file his false scheme disguised as a Civil Suit, which is filled with blatant lies, fictitious accounts, salacious and slanderous accusations, all in an effort to hurt my family and our State.”
But the lawsuit also lays out, perhaps more interestingly, Lewis’ final year as the Governor’s top body guard and the affair he says he witnessed. In the 50-page brief, Lewis and his attorneys summarize sordid details of Bentley’s alleged relationship with Mason.
Their affair — which the Governor now claims is over — dated back to at least spring 2014, when Lewis said he first learned of the possibility that the Governor could be involved with Mason, according to the lawsuit. Lewis said Paul Bentley, the Governor’s son, told him that they suspected an affair in May 2014.
Lewis — who headed the Governor’s security detail, traveled everywhere with him and had an office in the capitol across the hall from the Governor — said he observed Mason entering the Governor’s office for hours on end in private, alone with the Governor.
“[Lewis] could see anyone coming or going, and could take note of how long someone had been in the Governor’s office,” the lawsuit says. “There were times when [Lewis] would observe Rebekah Mason coming out of the Governor’s office, with her hair all messed up, and straightening up her skirt as she emerged from the Governor’s office, after having been in there for hours.”
Three days later on May 7, 2014, after Lewis first learned of the affair from Bentley’s son, Lewis was summoned to Bentley’s office on Capitol Hill, according to the suit. He went in and found the Governor, accompanied by Mason, crying:
“Lewis asked, ‘Governor, what is going on?’ Bentley replied, ‘Dianne has accused me of having an affair, and she has a recording.’ He added that his wife, Dianne, had a recording, but had given it to his son (Paul). The Governor asked Lewis to go talk to Paul. Lewis inquired, ‘What do you want me to do?’ The Governor replied, ‘Find out if he has a recording.’ He sent Mason out of the office, and she went up to the Lt. Governor’s conference room.”
Bentley then replied, ‘Ray, I am embarrassed for you to hear what’s on that recording. It’s between Rebekah and I. I am ashamed of what came out of my mouth.’ Lewis inquired, ‘Governor, are you telling me that this is true?’ ‘Yes,’ replied the Governor, ‘I am ashamed of what I have done.’
After finding out about the relationship, Lewis says, he began pleading with the governor to end it because he was afraid Bentley could get into trouble for using state vehicles and planes to facilitate the affair. When Lewis confronted the Governor, Bentley asked Lewis to “break-up with Rebekah” for him, according to the lawsuit.
In Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey’s conference room, Lewis attempted to end the affair for Bentley for over an hour. Lewis thought he was successful ending the affair, with both Bentley and Mason agreeing it should end. Nevertheless, Bentley came in and began “rubbing and massaging Mason’s shoulders, stroking her hair and saying, “Baby, it’s gonna be alright,” the lawsuit says.
But it wasn’t over, the lawsuit alleges. For the next year, until Lewis retired in early 2015, Bentley and Mason continued their affair despite Lewis’s repeated attempts to convince them both to quit seeing each other.
Over the same time period, Lewis said Bentley sent him on several hunting expeditions to find a recording Ms. Bentley made of the Governor and Mason engaging in lewd conversation over the telephone. That recording was made public in March.
Bentley sent Lewis to Tuscaloosa to confront his own son, Paul Bentley, about the recording, which he believed Paul had. At the time, Paul didn’t have it, Lewis said, but Paul’s wife, Melissa Bentley, did. Paul Bentley told Lewis, “You ain’t gettin’ it.”
The Governor continued using Lewis to both facilitate the affair and attempt to end it, even asking him to drive to Gulf Shores to break-up with Mason again while she was with her family on vacation. Bentley later decided that she would “be alright” and that he didn’t have to go, Lewis said. Their affair continued, and Mason wanted Lewis gone, the lawsuit alleges.
“For Lewis, however, the damage was done. He had seen too much. He had heard too much. He knew too much. The Governor had confided in him too much. He had tried too hard to do what the Governor had asked him several years earlier to do: to tell him when he was doing something wrong. Regarding Rebekah, the Governor didn’t want to hear it. As for Rebekah, it was clear: Ray Lewis needed to go.”
Lewis, who said he grew tired of trying to stop the Governor’s affair with Mason, was forced to retire “four or five years” early because of Mason’s growing contempt for him. He ended up retiring in March 2015, five years after he became Bentley’s chief body guard.
Mason stayed on as a political aide to Bentley for nearly a year. And even after Mason left the State payroll in late March 2016, she continued having access to the Capitol and the governor:
“Mason would come in the office, be around as if nothing had changed, and work on media events. This came as no surprise. The Governor had informed Lewis he was going to create a ‘501(c)(4) to get Rebekah paid,’” the lawsuit says.
Lewis said “whatever people may say, Rebekah Mason was the Governor of Alabama. People could talk to the Governor, but whatever Rebekah said went. … You could tell Rebekah was power-hungry.”
Other allegations also surfaced in Lewis’s lawsuit:
- Mason would visit the Governor at the Governor’s Mansion while Dianne Bentley was away. But after finding out that Ms. Bentley had knowledge of Mason’s name on visitor logs, Mason and Bentley began meeting at the Blount House, which kept no logs.
- Bentley leased planes for his campaign because private planes didn’t have to keep manifests. On the planes, “Mason would sit across from the Governor and discreetly touch his leg.”
- Bentley would regularly have Lewis pick Mason up in a state car or on the state helicopter. They would even swap Mason for Jennifer Ardis, Bentley’s former director of communications, on the manifests so that Mason would go undetected.
- The Governor met, on at least one occasion, with Mason at a private lake house with no security present.
- Bentley would routinely carry three cell phones, his State phone, his personal phone and a third phone, which Lewis says Bentley used to communicate with Mason. He also had separate email accounts.
- Ms. Bentley told Lewis that the governor bought a truck with bluetooth capabilities so he could go outside and talk on the phone with Mason without being heard or detected.
- Bentley, a licensed physician, wrote a drug prescription for Mason. And, on at least one occasion, according to the lawsuit, Bentley ordered Viagra in Ms. Bentley’s name, and had it shipped to the Governor’s Mansion.