On Monday, state Rep. Jack Williams, R-Vestavia Hills, and former Alabama Republican Party Chairman Marty Connors were arrested along with a California healthcare industry executive on charges of public corruption.
United States Attorney Louis Franklin announced that Williams, 60, and Riley-era ALGOP Chairman Connors turned lobbyist Martin “Marty” Connors, 61, from Alabaster, Alabama, had been indicted along with G. Ford Gilbert, 70, of Carmichael, California.
According to the indictment, Gregory Gilbert is the owner of a California company that operates diabetes treatment centers throughout the world—Trina Health, LLC (Trina Health).
In 2014 and 2015, Trina Health opened three clinics in Alabama. Soon thereafter, the state’s largest health insurer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, informed Trina Health that it would not cover the treatments provided by them. Gilbert then schemed to force Blue Cross to change its position.
Federal authorities allege that Gilbert came up with a plan to push a bill through the Alabama Legislature’s 2016 session that would require Blue Cross to cover the treatments. Gilbert then made payments to House Majority Leader Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, in exchange for his efforts on behalf of the bill.
Gilbert also hired Connors to act as a lobbyist on behalf of the bill. The indictment claims that Connors knew of Gilbert’s payments to Majority Leader Hammon.
Hammon and Connors then allegedly recruited Williams, then the chairman of the House Commerce and Small Business Committee. Williams then held a public hearing on the bill. The government alleges that Williams also knew of the payments to Hammon and acted in part to help Hammon, who, as everyone in the scheme knew, was experiencing grave financial problems.
Based on these events, the indictment charges all three defendants with conspiracy to commit bribery related to federal programs, conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, and honest services wire fraud. Additionally, the indictment alleges that Gilbert and Connors committed the substantive offense of bribery related to federal programs.
Gilbert alone is charged with wire fraud, health care fraud, and interstate travel in aid of racketeering. The indictment does not include charges against Hammon because Hammon has already been convicted in federal court of other offenses.
Sources tell the Alabama Political Reporter that Hammon is cooperating with federal authorities and likely is a key witness against his former friends and alleged co-conspirators.
If convicted of the most serious offenses, each defendant in this case faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, significant monetary penalties, asset forfeiture, and restitution.
An indictment merely alleges that crimes have been committed. Each defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The United States Postal Inspection Service investigated the case with the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant United States Attorneys Jonathan S. Ross and Joshua Wendell are prosecuting the case.
Williams is best known in the legislature for his work against human trafficking with the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force which he heads. He is also UAB’s best-known athletics booster. He was instrumental in the effort to restore the football program to UAB and to get legislative approval for a bill to modernize the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center including a new football stadium adjacent to the BJCC complex. Williams manages a UAB athletics website. Williams is also a Republican candidate for the Jefferson County Commission replacing the retiring David Carrington.
Connors was the chairman of the Alabama Republican Party when Congressman Bob Riley, R-Ashland, was elected governor in 2002. Connors split with Riley over Amendment One which would have cost Alabama taxpayers an estimated $1.2 billion a year. Connors has been a delegate to the national GOP convention multiple times.
If convicted, Connors would be the fourth former major party chairman in the state arrested in recent memory. Mike Hubbard was Alabama Republican Party Chairman. He was convicted on 12 counts of felony ethics violations. Bill Blount and Al Lapierre were both Alabama Democratic Party Chairmen. They pleaded guilty to corruption and bribery charges involving Jefferson County’s massive sewer debts. Former Birmingham Mayor and Jefferson County Commission Chairman Larry Langford was found guilty of taking payments from Blount, then a noted bond writer.
Williams was a vociferous defender of Hubbard, then Speaker of the House, after Hubbard was indicted. If found guilty, Williams would be the fourth member of the House convicted of major crimes in just the last three years, joining Hammon, Hubbard, and former state Rep. Oliver Robinson, D-Birmingham.
Two more Alabama inmates die after testing positive for COVID-19
The two additional deaths bring the total number of inmate deaths after positive test results to 12.
Two more inmates in Alabama prisons have died after testing positive for COVID-19, according to the Alabama Department of Corrections, bringing the total number of inmate deaths after positive test results to 12.
ADOC also announced Monday that 32 more inmates and eight prison workers have tested positive for coronavirus, making Monday’s update the largest single-day tally of new cases and deaths.
Lavaris Evans, 31, of Birmingham who was serving at Easterling Correctional Facility died Sunday after testing positive for COVID-19, according to ADOC. He had no other underlying medical conditions, according to the department.
Barry Stewart Foy, 57, who was serving at Staton Correctional Facility, where he was housed in the infirmary because of multiple health problems, also died after testing positive for COVID-19, according to ADOC.
Foy was tested for coronavirus on June 11 after being exposed to another inmate in the infirmary who tested positive. He was taken to a local hospital on June 20, where he later died.
Sharon Evans, Lavaris Evans’s wife, speaking to APR by phone on June 26, which was 16 days before his death, described what she was able to learn about her husband’s condition and of the last time she spoke to him.
“One of his friends, another inmate, said that he was so unresponsive he couldn’t even walk. He fell out. They allowed him to just lay in bed for four or five days, and no aid rendered,” Evans said.
Correctional officers placed her husband in a single cell, Evans said, a practice the department has used in the past to isolate a person who is suspected of having coronavirus to quarantine them away from others.
When his friend went to check on him in that single cell, her husband was unable to stand and walk to get his food, Evans said the inmate told her. It was that other inmate that informed Evans of her husband’s conditions after days of her trying unsuccessfully to get some word from prison administrators, she said.
APR’s attempts to contact the inmate who knew Lavaris were unsuccessful.
“They gave me the runaround. They hung up on me. They left me on hold for long periods of time. They gave me a name of a person to contact within the facility, and I found out later that person no longer works there,” Evans said.
Evans said the last time she spoke to her husband was on June 16, and it was clear something was wrong.
“He said that he woke up in a sweat. He was very weak, like his body was so heavy, and he was short of breath. He couldn’t even make a complete sentence,” Evans said. “He kept trying to say ‘I love you. Just know that I love you.’ And I’m like, ‘No. Stop saying that,’ as if it was going to be his last time speaking with me.”
Evans said he started coughing and sounded as if he was throwing up “and then he dropped the phone and that was the last I heard from him. I’m nervous now because I don’t know anything,” Evans told a reporter more than two weeks before his death.
An APR reporter reached out to an ADOC spokeswoman on June 26 and asked that a prison administrator call Evans to update her on her husband’s whereabouts and condition, and the spokeswoman said that she would make that effort.
Evans said that she never heard from anyone at ADOC, but that another family member of her husband was able to learn from prison staff that he was taken to a local hospital some time after she spoke to him on June 16, but the family member got no other information on his condition.
Evans told APR in a message July 9 that an inmate told her that her husband’s condition was worsening, that he had tested positive for COVID-19, was having heart problems and had pneumonia.
Lavaris Evans was tested for COVID-19 at Easterling prison on June 23, according to ADOC’S press release Monday. That would have been seven days after his last conversation with his wife. The department said he was tested after he began exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus.
“Evans did not suffer from any known preexisting health conditions. He was transferred to a local hospital for additional care on June 25 after his condition began to decline and returned a second positive test result for COVID-19 while at the hospital. Evans remained under the care of the hospital until his passing,” ADOC said in the release.
Twenty-six of the 34 new confirmed coronavirus cases among inmates Monday are at St. Clair Correctional Facility, where on Monday a total of 29 inmates and 10 workers had tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began.
Four more inmates at Easterling prison and four at Bullock Correctional Facility have also tested positive for COVID-19.
Five more workers at Kilby Correctional Facility have confirmed cases of the virus, bringing the total among staff there to 25. Two workers at Easterling prison also self-reported positive test results, as did a worker at Bibb Correctional Facility.
Two workers at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Woman previously died after testing positive for COVID-19. As of Monday, there have been 100 confirmed COVID-29 cases among inmates in Alabama, and 203 prison workers self-reported positive test results.
As the death toll and surging COVID-19 cases among inmates and staff continue, the department recently announced plans to ramp up testing, but for early proponents of expanded testing in state prisons, the move comes too late, and a lack of a detailed plan is troubling, they say.
ADOC on July 9 announced plans to start more broadly testing inmates and staff.
“The ADOC’s ultimate goal is to, over time, test every inmate across the correctional system for COVID-19,” according to a department press release.
Inmates are currently tested for coronavirus upon intake, when exhibiting symptoms of the virus and before medical appointments and procedures at local hospitals. Prison workers are asked to self-report positive COVID-19 test results.
ADOC said in the release last week that the next phase of expanded COVID-19 testing, “which will begin in the near future,” includes testing those inmates who are “most medically vulnerable,” and the department plans to test all inmates prior to release.
The department is also “working to develop a comprehensive plan and timeline” to provide staff with free testing “on a yet-to-be determined schedule.”
“The ADOC’s Office of Health Services (OHS) is working with community partners to develop both fixed and mobile testing sites and provide necessary logistical support,” the department’s press release states.
Asked Friday why plans for expanded testing of inmates and staff aren’t already finalized and ready to implement, ADOC spokeswoman Samantha Rose in a message said that the department’s Pandemic Continuity of Operations Plan is a “living” plan and is “regularly updated with new protocols, learnings, and actionable information based on the latest available data.”
Rose also said that COVID-19 testing capabilities “were extremely limited from March – May. This issue was not specific to Alabama, nor specific to correctional systems.”
Testing resources have expanded since the start of the pandemic, and so to have ADOC’s testing capabilities, Rose said.
“Given the fluid nature of COVID-19 and the now greater availability of testing resources, the expansion of our testing protocols — as indicated in our release — requires strategic implementation in order to achieve success as it relates to further containing the spread of the disease, which is the primary purpose. We fully intend to steward the taxpayer dollars funding this initiative thoughtfully to ensure we deliver appropriate available medical resources to our inmates and staff members,” Rose continued.
APR asked how long it might take for ADOC to begin the next phase of expanded testing, and Rose responded that the department will provide more information on the expanded testing strategy “and associated timelines related to its incremental implementation, in the near future.”
As of Monday, 535 of the state’s approximately 21,000 inmates had been tested for COVID-19, according to ADOC.
Dillon Nettles, a policy analyst at ACLU of Alabama, said in a message to APR on Monday that ADOC’s announcement of expanded testing is only as good as the plan and protocols in place to implement it.
“None have been disclosed or provided in detail. While several other states have forged ahead with mass testing of people in custody and staffers, ADOC seemingly has no plan for how they will execute testing at scale and adequately distance individuals who have been tested from those who have not,” Nettles said.
“The first COVID-19 patient in ADOC custody passed away nearly three months ago and in recent weeks two prison staffers have also died,” Nettles continued. “Mitigating this crisis as it has spread to our prisons is a responsibility that falls squarely upon Commissioner Dunn and ADOC leadership. They have yet to address it with the urgent and life-preserving response it demands.”
Alabama’s immigrants pay more than $1 billion in annual taxes, study says
Immigrants in Alabama are responsible for more than $900 million in federal taxes and more than $350 million in state and local taxes, according to a study.
Immigrants in Alabama are responsible for more than $900 million in federal taxes and more than $350 million in state and local taxes, according to a study published Monday that assessed the economic impacts of immigrants in each state.
Of Alabama’s 4.9 million residents, 162,567 of them, or 3 percent, were foreign-born as of 2018, according to statistics compiled by the American Immigration Council, which advocates for immigration reform.
Alabama residents in immigrant-led households had $3.7 billion in spendable income, the study states.
Of the state’s immigrant population, 34 percent was undocumented in 2016. That is equal to 1 percent of the state’s total population. Undocumented immigrants represented 2 percent of the state’s workforce that year. They paid an estimated $54.1 million in federal taxes and $37.6 million in state and local taxes in 2018.
Roughly 67,000 of the state’s immigrants, or 41 percent, were naturalized citizens as of 2018. Three-quarters reported speaking English “well” or “very well,” according to the study.
A third had a college degree or higher. By comparison, 25 percent of native-born residents of Alabama have that level of education. Twenty-seven percent of immigrants had less than a high school diploma compared to 13 percent of native-born Alabamians.
Mexico is the most common country of origin at 27 percent of immigrants. China and India each account for 6 percent, followed by Guatemala and Germany with 5 percent each.
The industries employing the largest shares of the immigrant population are construction, services other than public administration, accommodation and food services, agriculture and manufacturing.
There were 4,000 active recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA, as of 2019. Of those eligible for DACA, 58 percent had applied. These groups combined were responsible for $11.4 million in state and local taxes, or 3.2 percent of the total amount paid by foreign-born residents.
Immigrants represented 6 percent of the state’s business owners and generated $319.8 million in business income in 2018, the study said.
Cannabis advocates troubled by veteran’s 5-year sentence for medical marijuana
The Alabama Cannabis Industry Association on Monday released a statement critical of the decision by an Alabama court to imprison an Arizona man for five years after his probation for a 2016 marijuana arrest was revoked in April.
Sean Worsley was an Iraq War vet who legally uses marijuana for post-traumatic stress disorder, and for back and shoulder pain stemming from being wounded in an IED attack in Iraq.
He and his wife were arrested in Gordo, in Pickens County, in August 2016 after a police officer found the marijuana while questioning the Worsleys about the volume of their music when they stopped to get gas.
That Worsley had a valid medical cannabis card in Arizona — one of 33 states where that is legal — was no defense for the authorities in Pickens County. Worsley missed a court date in Pickens County after the VA rejected his application for a substance abuse program, so Pickens County issued a fugitive arrest warrant.
When Arizona arrested Worsley for letting his medical cannabis card expire, he was extradited back to Alabama. He is currently detained in Pickens County awaiting a spot to become available in an Alabama Department of Corrections facility.
Worsley could spend the next 60 months as a guest of Alabama taxpayers.
“The Alabama Cannabis Industry Association (AlCIA) has seen the need to bring clarity to the laws related to the medical marijuana issue facing our citizens,” said Michael Fritz, the general counsel for the Alabama Cannabis Industry Association.
Fritz said that legislators created the new Class D category of offenses so that habitual offenders don’t serve long prison systems, but they left police and district attorneys with broad discretion to determine whether a person possessing cannabis is using that solely for “personal use.”
That discretion is the difference between having misdemeanor charge and becoming a felon, Fritz said.
“States all across this country have acknowledged the medical benefits that cannabis brings to those suffering” from conditions like PTSD, Fritz said. “The ALCIA is fighting to allow those already suffering to have access to proper medication without the fear of becoming a felon.”
“Sean Worsley is a prime example of why we are fighting,” Fritz told APR. “Medical Marijuana can help our veterans that suffer from PTSD, anxiety as well as pain from physically disabilities. It’s time to permit medical cannabis in our state, as our sister states have done and avoid needlessly jamming our already over crowed prisons with marijuana arrest.”
A counselor who treats veterans with PTSD told APR that it is common for veterans with PTSD to use medical marijuana to self-medicate with cannabis and that veterans like Worsley should not be mistreated by our criminal justice system.
Chey Garrigan, the executive director of the ACIA, said that Alabama Appleseed and the Southern Poverty Law Center partnered with Western Carolina University economists Angela K. Dills and Audrey Redford to calculate that enforcing Alabama’s possession of marijuana laws costs the state an estimated $22 million a year.
Fritz told APR that if you are caught with 2.2 pounds of marijuana, the Alabama Courts charge you with trafficking, but that there are no guidelines under Alabama law in how to determine whether an amount smaller than that is for personal use — a minor offense — or not for personal use, which is a Class C felony in the state of Alabama.
Worsley was charged with the Class C offense.
Worsley’s mother has hired an attorney to appeal the conviction. Meanwhile, the Worsleys are hoping that he can receive clemency from the Alabama court system. Sean has already served approximately six months in jail in Arizona and Pickens County for this.
A bill to legalize medical marijuana has passed the Alabama Senate in each of the last two years, but the bills have failed to come to a vote in the Alabama House of Representatives.
“It’s time to permit medical cannabis in our state, as our sister states have done and avoid needlessly jamming our already over crowed prisons with marijuana arrests,” Garrigan said.
Sean’s plight was first made public by original reporting by Alabama Appleseed’s Leah Nelson.
Campaign for Common Sense endorses Sessions, Carl and Smith
The Campaign for Common Sense on Monday announced that it has endorsed Jeff Sessions for Senate, Jerry Carl for Congress in the 1st Congressional District and Will Smith for Court of Criminal Appeals Place 2 in Tuesday’s Republican primary runoff elections.
“While every election is important, this year we have a Marxist inspired Democrat Party trying to undo the Constitution, rewrite American History, promote leaders who say they want to ‘burn the system down’ as well as some such as Ilhan Omar who says that we must ‘dismantle the whole system of oppression’ — really?” Lou Campomenosi wrote.
“This type of rhetoric suggests that we are in a much different political place than any of us have seen since perhaps the anti-war movement during Vietnam — but even then, we did not see the anarchy linked to liberal elected officials closing their eyes and not stopping rioting and looting,” Campomenosi wrote. “The breakdown of Law and Order has never manifested itself as we have seen since Memorial Day when it all began, which means this is a critical election and all of us must vote!”
In the U.S. Senate race, the CSC has endorsed Sessions over former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville.
“For 20 years Senator Sessions served us honorably and as a strong Christian Conservative — he is squeaky clean and can withstand anything the democrats concoct to try to politically hurt him,” the CSC claimed. “His past record includes supporting Obama’s tariffs on Chinese tires in 2011 as part of his long opposition to the Globalists’ agenda. Senator Sessions led the fight against illegal immigration and open borders. He has warned about China’s aggression and worked for fully funding the needs of our military. With regards to all nations, Senator Sessions has long supported fair trade, protection of jobs for America’s workers along with American intellectual property. Senator Sessions is a Constitutional Originalist who has always defended the First and Second Amendments guaranteeing protection for our free speech and right to bear arms. Senator Sessions has not forgotten us in Mobile and Baldwin Counties with his work to bring the companies of Austal and Airbus here.”
In the 1st Congressional District, the CSC endorsed Carl, a Mobile County commissioner, over former Sen. Bill Hightower.
“Jerry Carl was first endorsed by the Board for the March 3rd primary and was recently re-endorsed because in the time since the March 3rd primary and now, CSC has seen Jerry validate its trust in him time and again on the issues that are critical to our region,” the Tea Party group explained. “Whether it was working to improve the Port of Mobile that is critical to Alabama’s commerce or by taking a leading role on the Mobile Planning Commission by saying NO to an absurd $6 toll being proposed by Governor Kay Ivey for a new bridge over the Mobile River, Jerry has shown a willingness to fight for what was right for this region. For CSC, that means that Jerry Carl understands how the other counties in this District work and he has working relations with his fellow County Commissioners in the District and he has been ‘in the trenches’ at the local level gaining experience not only in development, infrastructure and budget issues, but he has also been heavily involved with Mobile’s Public Health Director in fighting the Wuhan Virus pandemic.”
For the Court of Criminal Appeals, the CSC endorsed Smith, who is challenging incumbent Beth Kellum.
“I first met Will Smith when we were living in Florence at the time of the beginning of the Tea Party,” Campomenosi wrote. “We worked together on a great TP meeting on July 4th 2009 that brought out over 1000 patriots to hear among others, Mo Brooks. Will’s background is well suited to this position because in addition to his 25 years of practicing law, he served as a County Commissioner in Lauderdale County where he fought against tax increases and as an NRA member supported the Second Amendment. As a lawyer, who is a member of the Federalist Society, Will brings a wide range of experiences as a criminal defense lawyer and a special prosecutor in thousands of cases spanning his 25 year career. As a member of the Alabama, Georgia, and U.S. Supreme Court Bars, he has handled appeals at the state and Federal levels, which means Will is well prepared for accepting the responsibilities of a Judge on the Court of Criminal Appeals. Attesting to that, Will has received the endorsement of the Alabama Republican Assembly and various conservative groups in the state including the Common Sense Campaign. I think it is also important to keep in mind that Will has been a servant leader in his community, where he has been a Sunday school teacher, has devoted his time to his Church’s Special Needs Ministry, and has been a basketball coach in a program called Upward Basketball. In addition to all of his local community work, Will has also found time to join an International Missions program as a worker. I think you can see from this brief review that Will Smith is ready for this job based on his quarter of a century in law practice, his life experiences as a husband and father in a faith-based community, and importantly, his Christian conservative foundation that is necessary in applying the law to so many different circumstances.”
Polls open at 7 a.m and close at 7 p.m.