By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Thursday, June 22, 2017, former State Representative Oliver Robinson (D-Birmingham) entered guilty pleas to Federal charges of fraud, bribery, corruption, and tax evasion.
Rep. Robinson resigned from the Alabama House of Representatives last year, claiming that there was a conflict of interest with his serving in the legislature and his daughter working for former Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R).
On Thursday the US Attorney’s office, the FBI, and the IRS claim that Robinson accepted bribes from powerful Birmingham law firm, Balch and Bingham for Robinson to advocate against expansion of a massive EPA Superfund site in Birmingham. Balch & Bingham client, Drummond Coal and its affiliate ABC Coke, would have potentially had to pay $millions to cleanup more neighborhoods in Birmingham.
Critics of alleged high levels of corruption in Montgomery and the Legislature were not surprised by Robinson’s admission of guilt.
Alabama Legislative Watch Dogs Director Ann Eubank told The Alabama Political Reporter: “This week has shown that “big money” in politics is polluting the system without any end in sight. Rumor has it that there is still a long list of elected officials being investigated, so how many politicians will go to jail before it stops? Could this be the reason that so many republicans are not running for reelection? Just asking.”
Former Alabama Public Service Commissioner Terry Dunn (R) said, “Look for more indictments to come. The employers of the employees mentioned in conspiracy have ties with Alabama Power. Balch & Bingham law firm, which represents Alabama Power and their supplier Drummond’s Coal, owns the Alabama Public Service Commission through it’s large political contributions.”
The Alabama Legislative Watch Dogs lobbied the legislature to pass ethics reform. That Legislation did not advance far during the 2017 Legislative session. Some Legislators and lobbyists have even voiced their opinion that Mike Hubbard’s 2010 Ethics Reform package unfairly prevents them from conducting business with firms that lobby the Legislature.
Eubank said, “The Alabama Legislative Watchdogs presented the ‘Anticorruption Platform’ to the Legislature at the beginning of the last session, maybe they need to get it out of their trash cans and read it again.”
Robinson’s attorneys, Richard S. Jaffe and Michael Whisonant Jr., released a statement: “Oliver is deeply aware that he has let down the public, his constituents and his family as it relates to certain decisions he made that he deeply regrets. Entering into a plea agreement with the government represents the clearest evidence that he is taking complete responsibility for his mistakes and misjudgments. Since the investigation unfolded, He has been, and intends to remain, faithful to the truth as he moves forward and puts the past behind him. He offers no excuse- just deep remorse- for his past actions.”
Acting United States Attorney for Northern Alabama Robert Posey said in a media availability, “Here with me from the FBI is acting Special Agent in Charge Dean Abbott and from the IRS Acting Special Agent in Charge Lisa Fintona. Today the United States Attorney’s office filed federal felony charges against former state Representative Oliver Robinson. Mr. Robinson is charged with conspiracy, bribery, and defrauding the people of Alabama and his constituents of his honest services.”
US Attorney Posey continued, “The gist of the charges are that Mr. Robinson accepted a valuable contract from a Birmingham law firm in exchange for using his position in the Alabama legislature to advocate for the position of a coal company which was a client of the law firm. To advocate for the position of the coal company in opposing a proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency to expand the area covered by the current 35th Avenue Superfund site. This proposal would have put additional Birmingham neighborhoods on a national priority list for cleanup and remediation of deposits of toxic chemicals into the soil of those neighborhoods. The communities currently covered by the superfund are the neighborhoods of Collegeville, Fairmont, and Harriman Park. The proposal would have expanded that national priority list to include Tarrant and Inglenook
Posey claimed that, “At the time of the charged conspiracy, Birmingham Law firm, Balch & Bingham represented Drummond Coal and its affiliate ABC Coke. ABC Coke had been named by EPA as potentially responsible for the cleanup of these neighborhoods And Mr. Robinson’s key act on behalf of the coal company in exchange for the contract with the law firm were to appear in his capacity as a State Representative before the Alabama Environmental Management Commission and before the Director of the Alabama Environment Management Commission to argue against EPA’s declaration and expansion of the Super Fund site argue on behalf of the interest of the coal company which potentially could be responsible for tens of millions of dollars in cleanup. Mr. Robinson did not disclose this conflict of interest either to his constituents of the Alabama Environmental Management Commission. So this is an example of a well-funded public interest to offer an irresistible inducement to a public official. In exchange that public official represented the interests of those who were paying him rather than the interests of his community and constituents here in Birmingham. In addition to the conspiracy and wire fraud count Mr. Robinson is charged with misuse of campaign contribution paid to his House campaign and for fraud relating to solicitation of private contributions to a firm he had that ran events in the Birmingham area. The last count also charges Mr. Robinson with tax evasion for his 2015 calendar year failure to report the bribes and the contract payments that were paid to him. The contracts paid to Mr. Robinson totaled $360,000.”
Oliver Robinson was a star basketball player for the University of Alabama in Birmingham (UAB).
Former state Representative Greg Wren (R-Montgomery) pleaded guilty of using his office for personal gain, former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) was convicted of 12 felony ethics violations, and former Governor Robert Bentley (R) accepted a plea agreement on ethics and campaign finance laws. While prosecutors have successfully identified and prosecuted corrupt politicians, they have yet to indict any of the powerful power brokers who paid that tinted money to the politicians. Will this Federal Grand Jury actually indict the lobbyists, CEOs, law firms, and consultants who have made corrupting the political life of the state the focus of their career. To this point Wren, Hubbard (who is appealing his conviction), and Bentley have not served any jail time. Robinson is expected to serve prison time as part of his guilty plea. Will this Grand Jury be different on that count?
The longtime Chairman and CEO of Drummond Gary Drummond died 11 months ago. He was the richest person in the state of Alabama.
According to Drummond’s website, ABC Coke is the largest merchant producer of Foundry Coke in the United States. Typical product characteristics are 91.50 percent fixed Carbon, 8.0 percent Ash, 0.50 percent volatile matter, and 0.64 percent Sulphur. ABC operates 132 ovens with an annual capacity of 730,000 tons of saleable coke.
2016 was a record year for Drummond Coal with sales of 32.6 million tons of coal to 24 countries across the globe.
Public corruption prosecutions by the U.S. Attorney’s offices have been rare in Alabama since the bingo corruption investigation of 2010 resulted in not guilty jury verdicts against gambling boss Milton McGregor and four Alabama State Senators. Thursday’s announcement may indicate that the Sessions Justice Department intends to be more aggressive in prosecuting public corruption cases.
Original reporting by the Alabama Media Group’s Kent Faulk contributed to this report.