By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Balch & Bingham partners Joel Gilbert and Steve McKinney were indicted by a federal grand jury along with Drummond Company, Inc. Vice President David Roberson for six counts of conspiracy, bribery, wire fraud, and money laundering in an alleged conspiracy to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from expanding the 35th Avenue Superfund site in North Birmingham and making cleaning up the site a national priority. To accomplish this mission, prosecutors allege that the trio bribed then state Representative Oliver Robinson, D-Birmingham, who they paid hundreds of thousands of dollars. Robinson, then the Co-Chair of the Jefferson County Legislative Delegation, was then allegedly directed by Gilbert and McKinney to use his office to block the EPA’s cleanup efforts.
Following the announcement by U.S. Attorney Jay Town, the Drummond Company Inc. denied any wrongdoing.
Drummond Company, Inc. said in a statement, “When confronted with an environmental issue in Jefferson County, Alabama, Drummond retained one of the state’s most respected environmental law firms. The law firm engaged the Oliver Robinson Foundation to perform community outreach in connection with the matter, and Drummond understood this process was lawful and proper.”
Drummond added, “Two of the law firm’s lawyers involved in the matter, and Drummond’s government affairs officer, have now been charged with federal offenses, apparently based on testimony of Representative Robinson. All three men deny the charges, and must be presumed innocent.”
Balch & Bingham also released a statement, “Today we learned of the federal grand jury action regarding Joel Gilbert and Steve McKinney. While we note that Mr. Gilbert has denied the charges and vowed to vigorously defend himself, and expect Mr. McKinney to do the same, the charges allege actions that, if proven to be true, are contrary to the ethical values that guide our firm’s attorneys and staff. We take these issues very seriously. We are continuing to cooperate fully with government authorities because, in part, we believe strongly that our firm is not implicated more broadly in the alleged conduct. Both Mr. Gilbert and Mr. McKinney are on an indefinite leave of absence. We will continue to ensure that all of the firm attorneys and staff, across our footprint, fully understand and are adhering to the highest standards of legal and ethical compliance.”
Joel Gilbert’s defense attorney, Jack Sharman said in a statement on Wednesday, “The Government has the burden of proof at trial, not Joel, but the evidence – including emails, text messages, contracts, billing records, environmental testing and witness testimony – will prove that Joel is innocent.” “We will tell the whole story at trial. Because of the recent adverse publicity about these events, however, a few basic facts should be noted.”
Sharman said, “The consulting contract at issue is both lawful and common. Balch & Bingham, Joel’s law firm, entered into a contract with the Oliver Robinson Foundation, on behalf of the firm’s client, Drummond Company, to help with a grassroots effort to understand what EPA was doing in North Birmingham and Tarrant and, where appropriate, to address factual inaccuracies and faulty science. Such contracts and efforts are legal under both federal and state law, including the Alabama Ethics Code. The Alabama Ethics Code is complex, but it explicitly permits public officials, including state legislators and their affiliates, to do consulting work for a fee – the type of arrangement that the Government is now trying to say is criminal.” “If Oliver Robinson did something he was not supposed to with the fees paid to the Foundation for the Foundation’s work, Joel did not know about it or approve of it.”
David Roberson’s defense team declared; “David Roberson is innocent of the charges returned against him, at the prosecution’s request, by a grand jury that heard only one side of the evidence. David has lived his entire life in Alabama and has earned a stellar reputation for his honesty, integrity, and hard work. David’s tenure with his current employer, Drummond Company, Inc., is no exception.” “David looks forward to his day in court and expects to be acquitted of all charges by a jury of his peers in a trial where he will have the right to confront the prosecution’s evidence.”
Town said that if the defendants do not plead guilty and force a trial then former State Representative Oliver Robinson could testify against them in their trial.
Town said that the defendants will be arraigned in the next two weeks.