By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Thursday, former state Rep. Oliver Robinson, D-Birmingham, was in federal court where he pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from a partner with Balch & Bingham law firm and an executive with the Drummond Company.
In exchange for payments to a foundation that Robinson ran, Robinson agreed to help fight expansion of an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site in north Birmingham. The site was allegedly polluted over the course of decades by ABC Coke, which was acquired by Alabama based coal giant, Drummond Co. Expansion of the site would have cost ABC Coke and Drummond millions.
Robinson, a 1980s basketball star at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, entered a guilty plea before U.S. District Court Judge Abdul Kallon for bribery, conspiracy, tax evasion and four counts of fraud. Robinson resigned from the state House of Representatives late last year because his daughter was a legislative aide for then Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, and he thought that having both of them in different branches of government was a conflict of interest, so he was stepping aside to help his daughter advance her career.
In exchange for lenient terms, Robinson has agreed to cooperate with the federal authorities’ investigation into the conspiracy. Failure to cooperate could result in a lengthy prison sentence that would leave Robinson in federal prison for decades and require him to pay fines of $1.6 million and restitution.
U.S. Attorney Jay Town said, “This lamentable pursuit of self-interest masquerading as beneficial for the little guy is more than a violation of our laws. This was a violation of the public trust and among the worst breaches of our social contract. All those engaged in public corruption must be brought to justice, and it matters not their benefactor or station.”
Balch & Bingham paid Robinson’s foundation $360,000, allegedly, for his efforts opposing the expansion of the Super Fund Site. Part of those efforts included testifying before the Alabama Department of Environmental Management Commission. Robinson told ADEM that he was there representing the residents of north Birmingham and that they as a group were in opposition to the expansion.
While Robinson entered a guilty plea with federal prosecutors in June, he had to formally enter his guilty plea with the court. Robinson remains free on bond. He is being represented by Richard Jaffe.
To this point, no one else has been indicted, but sources tell The Alabama Political Reporter that will change rapidly in coming weeks.
A number of prominent Alabama legislators and leaders also opposed the Superfund site expansion.
Notably, then Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange twice sent letter to the EPA denouncing the plan to expand the Superfund site to include the Tarrant and Inglenook areas. Following both letters, the Drummond Company paid a campaign contribution to Strange. Strange said that the Superfund site expansion would have cost the state millions, and if he had it all to do over again, he would do the same thing.
Strange was later appointed to the U.S. Senate and is now in a Republican primary runoff with former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore. The runoff will be Sept. 26.
Original reporting by the Birmingham Times contributed to this report.