By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
According to the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District, Jay Town, four lone actors allegedly conspired to stop the EPA’s efforts to declare a portion of North Birmingham an EPA Superfund Site.
Town asserts that only Joel Iverson Gilbert, Steven George McKinney, David Lynn Roberson and then Democrat State Rep. Oliver Robinson devised, funded and executed a plan to halt attempts by the federal government to determine the environmental impact of pollutants at what is now known as the 35th Avenue Superfund Site.
Gilbert and McKinney are partners at the Birmingham-based law firm, Balch & Bingham, and Roberson is vice president of government and regulatory affairs for Drummond Company.
At a press conference announcing indictments against Gilbert, McKinney and Roberson, the newly appointed U.S. Attorney Town said that higher-ups at Balch and Drummond were not fully aware of these mens’ actions to persuade homeowners in North Birmingham to not cooperate with EPA testing.
Town dismissed suggestions of a wider conspiracy saying, “Those at Drummond and Balch were in my opinion duped by the conspirators.”
“They [Balch] were not given the full details, and that was remarkably clear in the evidence.” He also stated that Robinson was the “only public official,” and Roberson was the sole participant from Drummond.
Town said there’ll be no further indictments related to the case.
A former federal agent speaking on background said, “If Balch wasn’t aware of what two of their partners were doing, then either management is incompetent, which should worry their other corporate clients or there is something we are not being told by the prosecution.” He also expressed the same of Roberson’s bosses.
It is widely believed that the state attorney general’s office is engaged in a parallel investigation that has tentacles in the Birmingham Waterworks Board, as well. A recent report by John Archibald stated, “The feds have charged former Rep. Oliver Robinson with bribery and fraud, and accepted his guilty plea…The state has sought information on Robinson too, and the people who bribed him. But there’s a problem. The feds and the state are not working together. In fact, they are working apart.”
Town told Archibald, “We’d love to find a way to work with Attorney General [Steve] Marshall’s office.”
So why aren’t they?
Here, Archibald says Town is concerned about shifting testimony. “The problem is not one of trust or territory, but caution about what might happen to cases when federal witnesses offer additional statements to another law enforcement agency.”
Marshall told Archibald, “We’re better fighting corruption when we are able to do it together. I hope we can figure it out together.”
Both Town and Marshall’s offices are staffed by career prosecutors that are fully versed in how to avoid such pitfalls.
Both men are relatively new to their respective positions, with Town having just recently inherited the Robinson case. But for anyone who has closely followed public corruption investigations, the reasoning given by Town and the response from Marshall is troublesome.
A conspiracy involving nearly $400,000 funneled to one elected official in Montgomery, a town that leaks like a sieve, makes it difficult to believe that there were just four rogue free-agents.
Did anyone prompt Business Council of Alabama’s CEO Billy Canary to pen an op-ed condemning the EPA’s actions?
How about unsolicited letters sent to the EPA opposing the site by then Attorney General Luther Strange, a former lobbyist for energy concerns?
According to a report by APR’s Brandon Moseley, Gilbert, McKinney and Roberson formed a tax-exempt corporation named Alliance for Jobs and Economy and recruited companies to contribute money to it to help fund opposition to the EPA’s actions in North Birmingham. Roberson opened and controlled AJE’s bank account. During 2015 and 2016, Drummond and four other corporations contributed a total of $195,000 to AJE, according to the indictment, and Gilbert and Roberson directed almost all of that money to the Oliver Robinson Foundation. Gilbert and Roberson also directed more than $150,000 from Drummond to the Oliver Robinson Foundation. In total, the Oliver Robinson Foundation received approximately $360,000 under the contract during 2015 and 2016.