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Birmingham Waterworks Board chairwoman indicted

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

The Chairman of the Birmingham Water Works Board Sherry Lewis was indicted Wednesday for violating Alabama’s ethics laws.

Along with Lewis, the state and FBI also arrested a former vice president at Arcadis – the company formerly known as Malcolm Pirnie – Jerry Jones, and Mount Vernon Mayor Terry Williams, the owner of Global Solutions International, Inc., on felony state ethics charges. Jones was the vice president of engineering company, Arcadis. He managed the company’s multimillion dollar business with Birmingham Water Works.

Rumors of corruption have long followed the Birmingham Water Works Board. Former state Rep. Paul DeMarco had a long history in the state legislature of introducing reforms to governance at the BWWB – reform bills the BWWB opposed – and yearly introduced bills to change how the Board was governed and to make its operations more transparent.

DeMarco told the Alabama Political Reporter, “As ratepayers, we should applaud prosecutors for their uncovering the evidence of corruption at the board. We will watch this case closely as justice for ratepayers has been a long time coming. I always believed it would not only take legislation to reform the Birmingham Water Works Board, but prosecution of questionable practices. We will see if Wednesday’s news will lead to other indictments for corruption at the board.”

Attorney General Steve Marshall and the Birmingham Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced the arrests of Lewis, 55; Jones, 54; and Williams, 62.

Attorney General Marshall’s Special Prosecutions Division partnered with agents in the FBI’s Birmingham Division in an investigation into allegations of corruption in the Birmingham Water Works and its independent engineer of record, Arcadis, as well as Arcadis subcontractor, Global Solutions International, Inc.

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The Jefferson County Special Grand Jury remains empaneled, and the investigation is ongoing.

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The indictments charge the following violations of the Alabama Ethics Act:

Count 1 charges Sherry Lewis with violating the state ethics law by intentionally using her office to obtain personal gain for herself, her family member and the businesses with which she is associated. Count 2 charges Sherry Lewis with violating the state ethics law by voting on or participating in matters in which she or a family member had a financial interest of gain. Count 3 charges Sherry Lewis with violating the state ethics law by soliciting or receiving anything for the purpose of corruptly influencing official action.

Count 1 charges Jerry Jones with violating the state ethics law by aiding and abetting Sherry Lewis’ unlawful use of office to obtain personal gain for herself, her family member and the businesses with which she is associated. Count 2 charges Jerry Jones with violating the state ethics law by aiding or abetting Lewis’ voting on or participating in matters in which she or a family member had a financial interest of gain. Count 3 charges Jerry Jones with violating the state ethics law by offering or providing anything for the purpose of corruptly influencing official action.

Count 1 charges Terry Williams with violating the state ethics law by aiding and abetting Sherry Lewis’ unlawful use of office to obtain personal gain for herself, her family member and the businesses with which she is associated. Count 2 charges Terry Williams with violating the state ethics law by aiding or abetting Lewis’ voting on or participating in matters in which she or a family member had a financial interest of gain. Count 3 charges Terry Williams with violating the state ethics law by offering or providing anything for the purpose of corruptly influencing official action.

“I want to thank the Birmingham Division of the FBI for partnering with my Special Prosecutions Division to investigate this matter,” said Attorney General Marshall. “The citizens of this state expect honesty and integrity from public servants at all levels of government. As Attorney General, a top priority is to ensure that any person who violates the public’s trust will be held accountable.”

“I certainly appreciate the partnership of the Alabama Attorney General’s Office in this case,” said Johnnie Sharp Jr., special agent in charge of the Birmingham Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “Public corruption continues to be the FBI’s highest criminal priority because it erodes the public’s trust and rips at the fabric of democracy. If you know something about a corrupt public official, call us. Then rest assured that the FBI and our partners will act on your information.”

If convicted, all of the defendants face a maximum of 20 years in prison and fines of $30,000 for each of the three counts in the indictments.

Marshall commended Deputy Attorney General Mike Duffy, Assistant Attorney General Peggy Rossmanith, investigators in the attorney general’s Special Prosecutions Division, and special agents of the Birmingham Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The scandal hit just a week into new Mayor Randall Woodfin’s tenure as mayor of Birmingham.

“There is no higher priority for my administration than creating transparency and ensuring high ethical standards in everything we do,” Woodfin said in a statement. “As a former prosecutor, I know that the indictments damage public confidence and raise questions about the integrity of our institutions. My office will work with the city council and any other authority to help bring to light any improper activities, and we will respond appropriately to ensure that the public’s best interests are protected as we move forward.”

In a statement, Arcadis said the an internal investigation showed Jones violated company policies, and added that the company cooperated with state and federal investigations.

In 2016, the board approved $6.3 million of invoices for Arcadis and $1.7 million in 2017.

President Frank Matthews of the Outcast Voters League has called for Birmingham Water Works Chairwoman Sherry Lewis to resign immediately.

Matthews said in a statement that if her resignation is not offered at that time, a protest of that meeting and/or a previously postponed boycott of the payment center are both being considered.

Matthews said, “I want to thank the grand jury for finding probable cause with the case brought by the Attorney General’s office. We hope that justice is served swiftly, but until that time she needs to step down.”

If Lewis resigns, Vice Chairman Tommy Joe Alexander will take over as chairman. Alexander is a former mayor of Irondale and a former Birmingham Police officer.

(Original reporting by the Alabama Media Group’s Erin Edgemon contributed to this report.)

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