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Testimony confirms Sen. Phil Williams lied about criminal investigation

Bill Britt

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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.

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Q. Do you know what the accusations were?

A. Yes, I do.

Q. What were those?

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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.

Senator Claims 43 Contracts are “Reoccurring Litigation Clients”

On Jan. 7, 2016, APR revealed that Williams was in fact a target in a criminal probe.

State Senator Under Investigation

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.

Law Enforcement Informs Ethics Commission Sen.Williams 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.

Firings Lead to Closing Criminal Cases

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.

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Economy

Alabama unemployment rate drops more than 2 points to 5.6 percent

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased to 5.6 percent in August, down from 7.9 percent in July, according to the Alabama Department of Labor. 

The figure represents 127,186 unemployed people, compared to 176,556 in July. It compares to an August 2019 rate of 2.8 percent, or 62,149 unemployed people.

“August showed a larger drop in the unemployment rate than we’ve seen for a few months,” said Alabama Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington. “We are continuing to see our initial claims drop, staying under 10,000 for the past several weeks. We regained another 22,200 jobs this month but are still down more than 86,000 from this time last year.”

Washington said that the number of people who are working or actively looking for work is at its highest level ever, which he described as a sign that people are confident that there are jobs to be found. 

Gov. Kay Ivey said the numbers are good news for Alabama. 

“We have worked extremely hard to open Alabama’s businesses safely, and to put our hard-working families back to work,” Ivey said in a statement. “We know that challenges remain, and we will endeavor to meet them so that we can get back to our previous, pre-pandemic record-setting employment numbers.”

All the state’s counties and metro areas experienced a decrease in unemployment rates from July to August. The most gains were seen in the government sector, the professional and business services sector and the trade, transportation and utilities sector.

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Counties with the lowest unemployment rates were:

  • Clay County – 3.4 percent
  • Randolph, Franklin, Marshall, Cullman, Cleburne and Cherokee Counties – 3.6 percent
  • Blount County – 3.7 percent

Counties with the highest unemployment rates were:

  • Wilcox County – 14.8 percent
  • Lowndes County – 13.8 percent
  • Greene County – 10.9 percent

Major cities with the lowest unemployment rates are:

  • Vestavia Hills – 3 percent
  • Homewood  – 3.2 percent
  • Madison – 3.3 percent

Major cities with the highest unemployment rates are:

  • Prichard – 15.4 percent
  • Selma – 12.9 percent
  • Bessemer – 10.7 percent

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Corruption

Former State Sen. David Burkette pleads guilty, avoids jail

Josh Moon

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Former Alabama Sen. David Burkette

Former State Sen. David Burkette will avoid jail time and be sentenced to a 30-day suspended sentence as part of a plea deal reached on Monday. 

Burkette, who pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Fair Campaign Practices Act, will also have to pay a $3,000 fine and serve 12 months of probation as part of the deal. He was sentenced in Montgomery Circuit Court on Monday after being charged two weeks ago with failing to deposit more than $3,600 in contributions into campaign accounts — a misdemeanor.

He also resigned his seat in the Alabama Senate as part of the plea deal. 

“I’m just happy to still be here,” Burkette told the court following his sentencing, according to multiple media reports. 

The former senator suffered a stroke in 2018 and has been confined to a wheelchair since. His current health status played a role in his sentence considerations. 

The charges against Burkette stem from a series of complaints filed against him with the Alabama Ethics Commission — all of them related to various issues during his time on the Montgomery City Council. The charge for which he pleaded guilty occurred in 2015.

The Ethics Commission referred numerous charges to the Alabama attorney general’s office, according to sources familiar with the investigation of Burkette, but the attorney general’s office elected to charge Burkette with only the misdemeanor as part of the deal that saw him resign. 

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“Candidates for public office at the state, county and municipal levels must comply with the State’s Fair Campaign Practices Act,” said Attorney General Steve Marshall. “Personally profiting from campaign funds erodes public confidence in the system and will not be tolerated.”

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National

Governor surveys damage from Hurricane Sally

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey held press conferences in Gulf Shores and Dauphin Island after touring the storm damaged Alabama Gulf Coast, which was battered by Hurricane Sally last week.

Three Alabama counties have been approved for individual and public assistance from FEMA. Baldwin, Mobile and Escambia counties were approved for both IA and PA.

“When I was on the coast Friday, it was clear that there has been significant damage, and people are in need of relief,” Ivey said in a statement. “My Office has been working on putting in the request for individual and public assistance to help bring the needed aid, and I appreciate FEMA for quickly delivering to the people of Alabama. Being approved for individual and public assistance is an important step in the recovery process. Coastal Alabama, we are with you the whole way!”

Gov. Kay Ivey took a tour of the damage from Hurricane Sally on the gulf coast Friday September 18, 2020. (Governor’s Office/Hal Yeager)

FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor, U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne and Sen. Doug Jones also toured the damaged areas.

“I appreciate FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor for quickly getting down to Alabama to check out the damage from #Sally,” Byrne said. ”President Trump has already approved Alabama’s request for Public Assistance and Individual Assistance, so I encourage everyone to register for help from FEMA online at DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling the registration phone number at 1-800-621-3362. Residents of Baldwin, Escambia, and Mobile counties are currently eligible.”

“President Trump and his team have been outstanding to work with in making sure Alabama gets the help we need and deserve,” Byrne continued.

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Ivey toured the area by helicopter to survey the damage.

Gov. Kay Ivey took a tour of the damage from Hurricane Sally on the gulf coast Friday September 18, 2020. (Governor’s Office/Hal Yeager)

 

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“I’m sure it could be worse, but from what I’ve seen this morning in the flyover it is really, really bad,” Ivey said.

Over 200,000 people lost electric power due to Hurricane Sally. Alabama Power said Sunday that more than 99 percent of those people have had their power restored.

“Our electric companies are making progress every hour to restore power,” Byrne said. “A lot more work remains, but know that crews are working hard to get all the power back online. Hurricane Sally caused major damage to our electric infrastructure, and I appreciate all those working to get our lights turned back on.”


Gov. Kay Ivey took a tour of the damage from Hurricane Sally on the gulf coast Friday September 18, 2020. (Governor’s Office/Hal Yeager)

Alabama Power said that it may take into early this week to restore power to some portions of downtown Mobile, Bayou La Batre and Dauphin Island.

“With the Major Disaster Declaration, individuals may apply for disaster aid from FEMA,” Byrne explained.

You can apply online at disasterassistance.gov or by calling the registration phone number at 1-800-621-3362 (TTY: 800-462-7585).

Even though electric power has been restored, many homes have been severely damaged. Some are a total loss. Most homeowners are still waiting on insurance adjusters to complete their work. There was a lot of roof damage, not just in Gulf Shores, Dauphin Island, Fort Morgan and Orange Beach, but also in Foley, Robertsdale, Loxley, Bayou La Batre, Bay Minette and beyond — both from the winds and from the trees that fell.

Some homes near the coast were impacted by the storm surge, but many more well into Baldwin County as well as in Pensacola, Florida, were impacted by flooding. Many people are still in need of supplies for the cleanup as well as daily essentials.

“There are a number of food, water and supply distribution sites across Baldwin County,” Byrne said. “According to Baldwin County Emergency Management Agency, these locations have MREs, tarps, bottled water, ice, and other supplies.”

  • Baldwin County Coliseum (Robertsdale)
    19477 Fairground Road Robertsdale, AL
  • Seminole Fire Department
    32268 Highway 90 Seminole, AL
  • Lillian Community Club
    34148 Widell Avenue; Lillian, AL
  • Lana Park (Fairhope)
    523 Volanta Avenue; Fairhope, AL
  • Foley Soccer Complex
    18507 US Highway 98; Foley, AL
  • Orange Beach Community Center
    27235 Canal Road; Orange Beach, AL
  • Gulf Shores SportsPlex
    19025 Oak Road W; Gulf Shores, AL

On Saturday, literally hundreds of cars lined up to pick up supplies from the Robertstale Church of God in Robertsdale.

Hurricane Sally made landfall near Gulf Shores before dawn on Wednesday as a category two storm. Forecasters on Saturday had expected the storm to impact Louisiana but the hurricane turned to the northeast and made landfall in Alabama instead, gaining strength before coming ashore.

“No one expected this storm to be that strong,” Ivey said.

Ivey said most of the piers have been destroyed. Alabama’s State Fishing Pier had just finished a $2.5 million renovation. Now a large portion of the pier is missing. Most of the Gulf State Park campground went underwater. A few campers actually weathered the hurricane in their campers.

Debris removal is ongoing.

The Mobile County Commission announced that it will manage Hurricane Sally debris removal from all areas of Mobile County, located outside the 10 municipalities, except for the Town of Dauphin Island. Dauphin Island will be the only municipality to receive hurricane debris removal managed by the county.

To ensure pick-up removal, residents are asked to adhere to the following guidelines: Only Hurricane Sally-related vegetative and construction and demolition (C&D) debris will be collected. That excludes removal of normal household trash, appliances, electronics and household hazardous waste. Debris must be placed curbside or in right-of-way areas that do not block roadways or storm drains. Do not place material in drainage ditches. Vegetative debris should be piled separately from C&D debris material. Vegetative debris includes tree branches, limbs and non-bagged leaves. C&D debris includes building materials, fencing and bagged materials.

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Corruption

Mike Hubbard’s attorney asks court to reconsider prison sentence

Eddie Burkhalter

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Mike Hubbard reported to the Lee County Jail on Sept. 11, 2020. (VIA LEE COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE)

One week after he began serving his prison sentence, the attorney for former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard has asked the court to reconsider his four-year sentence.

Hubbard, 57, began serving his sentence on Sept. 11 after being free on an appeals bond for four years. He was ultimately convicted on six felony charges of using his office for personal gain.

“Mike Hubbard is not a danger to society, nor a threat to the public and a revised sentence will better serve the State’s interest in rehabilitation and the ends of justice,” Hubbard’s Birmingham attorney, David McKnight, wrote to the Lee County Circuit Court on Friday.

Hubbard had originally been convicted by a Lee County jury on 12 ethics violations, and the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals upheld 11 of those convictions, but the Alabama Supreme Court later reversed five of those convictions and upheld six.

McKnight, in his motion to the court, argues that due process compels the court to reconsider Hubbard’s sentence, and that his removal from office, loss of the right to vote and “divestment of business interests” have already punished the former House speaker.

The state’s attorney general at the time of his conviction determined that Hubbard had bilked Alabama out of more than $2 million.

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