In sworn testimony given by disgraced former Gov. Robert Bentley, he affirms that State Sen. Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City, was under investigation for possible ethics violations related to consulting contracts he attained after becoming a state senator, as first reported by Alabama Political Reporter in 2016.
After APR exposed Williams’ potential legal woes, he undertook a media blitz to deny APR‘s reporting. Along the way, Williams duped several news organizations into printing his false and outrageous claims which now are proven to be deliberate lies. Williams deceived al.com’s Paul Gattis, Alabama Today’s Adam Powell and The Gadsden Times’ Lisa Savage and others into printing his defamatory and misleading statements about the state’s criminal investigation and APR.
During a six-hour deposition in the wrongful termination suit brought by former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Spencer Collier, Bentley recalls how Collier had informed him of the Williams criminal probe. Bentley also testifies that Williams came to him to discuss the investigation being carried out by Collier’s agents.
At the same time, Williams was seeking Bentley’s help, he was misleading the press and his colleagues about the investigation being conducted by ALEA with assistance from the Attorney General’s Special Prosecution Division led by Matt Hart.
The following is the transcript of Bentley’s testimony in which he is being questioned by Collier’s lawyer, Kenny Mendelsohn.
Q. Okay. Were you aware, not now but back in 2015-2016 before Spencer was fired, about an investigation of Senator Phil Williams?
A. Spencer told me about that.
Q. Do you know what the accusations were?
A. Yes, I do.
Q. What were those?
A. It has something to do with clients that he had secured. I think he had secured about 43 clients if I remember the correct number, and ALEA was investigating them probably at the request of Matt Hart, or it might have been some other reason. I don’t know.
Q. But you don’t know that it was Matt Hart, do you?
A. I don’t know for sure, but I think that we talked about that it was the Attorney General’s office that was working with Spencer.
Q. But the Attorney General’s office is fully capable of investigating crimes like that without ALEA?
MS. MAYS: Object to form.
A. Yes, but sometimes they don’t want to do it. They want somebody else to do it or do it in a different way.
Q. Do you know what the results of that investigation were?
A. I think that actually, Phil Williams knew about the investigation, and he was in my office at a certain time — I don’t remember the exact date, it was the early part of the year — and he told me that he had asked the Attorney General’s — not Attorney General, I’m sorry, ethics to investigate him, and he gave all the information to them, he said, and that they had cleared him.
Q. Did you have any other discussions with Phil Williams about the investigation of him?
A. It seemed like I did, but I can’t remember the exact date. But it wouldn’t be anything in detail.
Q. Did anybody else reach out to you about the investigation of Phil Williams, like any other senators, house members, anybody; anybody else contact you, outside of law enforcement, asking you about the Phil Williams incident?
A. I don’t remember that.
Q. What about David Standridge, do you know David?
A. I do know David.
Q. Did he ever meet with you about Phil Williams?
A. I don’t remember that.
The deposition makes clear that Collier informed then-Gov. Bentley about the Williams inquiry. Bentley also confirms Williams came to him about the investigation “in the early part of the year.”
Williams’ so-called consulting came to APR‘s attention in late December 2015, as part of its investigation into STARRS – the state’s much-flawed accounting system.
APR exposed the extent of Williams’ full list of clients on Jan. 4, 2016, showing that since becoming a senator, he had raked in contracts which, at a minimum, could total $146,000 to a maximum $265,000 per year, according to his report.
On Jan. 7, 2016, APR revealed that Williams was in fact a target in a criminal probe.
However, on Jan. 11, 2016, The Gadsden Times, his hometown newspaper, reported, “He [Williams] said he has made a full inquiry at all levels of government and law enforcement and that revealed no evidence of any investigation.”
Despite his statements to The Gadsden Times, two days later, APR reported that State Law Enforcement had sent a letter to the State Ethics Commission confirming that Williams was under criminal investigation.
Williams intervened with the Ethics Commission and would later boast that the commission cleared him of any wrong-doing.
Ethics Commission Executive Tom Albritton responded to APR‘s inquiry into the commissions roll in clearing Williams as Bentley suggested, saying, “We can’t investigate unless a complaint is filed with us and one was not filed with us.” said Albritton. “We CAN [his emphasis] self-generate one if 4 of our 5 commissioners vote to do that, but if they vote to self-generate, then they can’t sit in judgment of the Complaint,” he further explained. “The Alabama Supreme Court must appoint a special panel to hear the Complaint. The commission did not self-generate a complaint either.”
APR has requested any correspondence between the commission and Williams to substantiate his claim that the commission had cleared him.
Williams in 2016, told the Gadsden Times, “I took the unusual step of contacting the Alabama Ethics Commission on Friday and personally requested they conduct a full review of my law practice. At my own insistence, they have now received all five years of my client lists and will review them under seal.”
The case files into Williams’ alleged criminal activities was physically taken from Special Agent Jack Wilson by State Bureau of Investigations Director Gene Wiggins after Collier was fired. Those close to the investigation believe Bentley had the probe spiked to help Williams.
Williams is retiring from the Senate and still maintains his innocence.
Why Williams was never indicted remains an unanswered question for now, but finally his lies are exposed.