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Morgan County DA sues Morgan County Sheriff over inmate food funds

Josh Moon

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Morgan County Sheriff Ana Franklin’s troubles continue to grow.

A few days after pleading guilty in federal court to failing to file a tax return in 2015, Franklin is now being sued by the Morgan County District Attorney to prevent her from misusing jail food money.

The lawsuit, filed by DA Scott Anderson last week, asks a circuit court to place an injunction on Franklin that would protect as much as $160,000 in funds that Anderson says Franklin improperly removed from the jail food fund. His lawsuit also asks the court to order a financial review of the jail food account and determine how much money should be recouped.

Circuit Court Judge Glenn Thompson granted the restraining order, which effectively freezes the account and prevents Franklin from using any of the remaining funds.

“This is taxpayer money that was designated to pay for feeding the inmates in the Morgan

County jail,” Anderson said. “Our goal in filing this lawsuit is to preserve what money that is left in the fund and make sure it is used for its intended purpose.”

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Franklin’s use of money designated to feed inmates has been a controversial issue for the out-going sheriff (she didn’t seek re-election). A large portion of the money was invested by Franklin in a used car dealership operated by a convicted felon. That business eventually became the focus of a law enforcement investigation, and earlier this year one of its partners was convicted of improperly using law enforcement resources in its operation.

Franklin’s investment landed her in federal court, where she was found to be in contempt of an earlier court order that prevented the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office from using food money on anything but expenses related to feeding inmates. Franklin was fined $1,000 and required to repay the $150,000 investment.

Anderson is concerned that Franklin might now attempt to use those funds to pay for the legal defense fees related to her growing legal troubles. Franklin is being sued by multiple parties for various alleged transgressions while serving as sheriff.

Sheriff-elect Ron Puckett, the police chief in Hartselle, said in a statement that he agreed with Anderson’s decision to seek a restraining order and that jail food funds would not be misused when he takes over in January.

“I want to assure Morgan County residents that our office will be a good steward of their

money,” Puckett said. “That means jail funds that are designated for the operation of the jail and the feeding of inmates will be used to operate the jail and feed inmates. That includes any money the District Attorney is able to preserve or recoup.”

Corruption

Former Republican State Rep. Ed Henry pleads guilty

Brandon Moseley

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Former Alabama state Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court to one count of aiding the theft of government property as part of a much larger Medicare fraud and kickback scheme.

Prosecutors agreed to waive 17 counts in the indictment and 15 counts in a related indictment in exchange for the guilty plea.

Federal prosecutors said that Rep. Henry’s role in the scheme cost the government more than $150,000. Prosecutors report in court filings that Henry cooperated with their efforts against other defendants and will recommend that his sentence be on the low end of the sentencing range. The charge carries a 10-year maximum sentence. Former state Representative Henry has also agreed to pay fines and restitution in the case.

The Alabama Media Group reports that Huntsville physician, Dr. Nicole Scruggs also pleaded guilty to a charge in a related case last week. Two other doctors have been charged in the case, including Decatur physician Punuru Reddy, who is scheduled to go to trial on February 4.

Henry was a partner in a medical clinic with Dr. Gilberto Sanchez. According to prosecutors, the clinic did not charge patients the $32 copay that Medicare requires. By waiving the copay that encouraged patients to come there over other providers and is a violation of the contract that clinics agree to when they agree to take Medicare patients. The fraud was uncovered in a larger investigation of pill mills and Dr. Sanchez and associates practice of over prescribing opioids.

Henry was a very outspoken member of the legislature who criticized then Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, for his corruption. Henry also introduced articles of impeachment against then-Gov. Robert Bentley (R).

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Henry is the fifth members of the 2010-2014 House of Representatives who have been found guilty of crimes while in office. Two others, Randy Davis, R-Daphne, and Jack Williams, R-Vestavia, have been indicted and are awaiting trial.

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Corruption

Sexual misconduct allegations at Department of Corrections kept from public by bureaucracy

Bill Britt

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A top official at the Alabama Department of Corrections was allowed to retire quietly after reportedly confessing to inappropriate sexual relations with multiple women in his chain of command.

Grantt D. Culliver, Associate Commissioner with the Alabama Department of Corrections, retired effective Nov. 30, 2018, with his full state pension and a check for approximately $30,000 in unrealized benefits.

According to half a dozen individuals who spoke with APR on deep background, Culliver, who oversaw operations at all state correctional facilities, came under severe scrutiny after two complaints were filed accusing him of using his office to pressure women for sex.

One complaint from high-ranking officials at the Department of Corrections is said to have been ignored by the office of DOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn. But when the same allegations reached Gov. Kay Ivey’s desk, her administration demanded an immediate and thorough probe into Culliver’s conduct.

According to personnel records obtained by APR on Sep. 14, 2018, Culliver was placed on mandatory leave. The document reads in part, “Your absence from work is deemed to be in the best interest of the department due to the nature of the allegations against you.”

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Culliver, over several years, used his position at DOC to coerce women under his command into sexual liaisons in return for promotions or other considerations, according to sources who spoke with APR. He also allegedly transferred females who rebuffed his advances. “If a female staffer didn’t have sex with him, she was transferred to Timbuktu, Alabama,” said one source. “And if you did, it meant promotions or other favors,” the source further stated.

An investigation into allegations against Culliver was carried out by the office of Attorney General Steve Marshall. During the investigation, Culliver, according to those with knowledge of the inquiry, confessed to having sexual relations with six women under his authority.

Marshall handed over the results of his office’s investigation to DOC instead of filing a criminal complaint. DOC Commissioner Dunn then turned the findings over to Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton where it remains out of public view.

In 2009, the Alabama Supreme Court in “Alabama Department of Corrections v. Mary Barksdale et al” held that the results of these types of investigations are public records under the state’s Open Meetings Act and cannot be kept from public review once the investigation is complete. However, by placing the findings with the Alabama Ethics Commission, the public may never know the whole story behind Culliver’s forced retirement.

It is widely suspected that Dunn, Marshall and others conspired to cover up allegations against Culliver.

This would not be the first time Marshall protected a man accused of sexually assaulting a female staffer; and Dunn may have reasons of his own for preventing the public from knowing the details of Culliver activities since Dunn hired Culliver against the advice of others in the department.

Culliver was first promoted to associate commissioner in Aug. 2014, by then-DOC Commissioner Kim Thomas. He was removed from that position on Jan 29, 2015, by interim DOC Commissioner William G. Sharpe following Thomas’ mandatory retirement by then-Gov. Robert Bentley.

Allegations of sexual misconduct are reportedly why Sharpe demoted Culliver.

Dunn, according to APR sources, was aware of the claims against Culliver but promoted him once again to associate commissioner on June 1, 2015.

APR sources report that Dunn and Culliver met shortly before his reappointment and that Culliver assured Dunn that he would conduct himself according to DOC policy if reinstated to his former rank.

Ignoring the advice of those around him, Dunn reappointed Culliver to associate commissioner.

From 2015, until his hushed departure in Nov. 2018, Culliver was accused of having sex with women who worked under him at DOC. He retired with full benefits after the findings from Marshall’s office landed at the Ethics Commission, where they now languish far from public examination.

Dunn wrote in Culliver’s personnel file on Oct. 31, 2018, “Grantt D. Culliver is not recommended for reemployment due to alleged violation of Administrative. Reg. 208, Employee Standards of Conduct and Discipline.”

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Corruption

Alabama’s top 5 political new stories of 2018

Josh Moon

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As usual, 2018 was a busy year for state political news in Alabama.

From indictments and scandals to big election wins and controversial legislation, here are the top five political stories of the past year.

5. Superfund convictions

 After months of embarrassing stories for Alabama politicians, a federal grand jury finally brought some closure to one of the most disgusting public corruption scandals in state history with the convictions of a former Drummond Coal executive and a high-ranking lawyer from the powerful Balch & Bingham law firm.

Joel Gilbert, a former Balch partner, and David Roberson, a former VP at Drummond, were convicted on numerous charges stemming from their bribery of former state Rep. Oliver Robinson.

The scandal involved Gilbert and Roberson — and others — working through Robinson — and other entities — to block the cleanup of a major pollution site in north Birmingham.  

4. The Ethics Sheriff gets the boot

In the least politically ethical state in the country, it’s hard to find good guys — the guys who take on corruption and who aren’t scared of the arrows coming back their way. Matt Hart was probably Alabama’s best good guy in the fight for an ethical government.

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Now, he’s gone. Done in by Steve Marshall who owed a favor to the big-money donors who helped get Marshall elected AG and who despise Hart.

There is no fear in Montgomery now, as lawmakers slowly rewrite and blow up ethics laws meant to prevent them from misusing their offices. And without Hart to crack down on at least a few of them, it’s open season for corruption.

3. Hubbard denied

Only in Alabama could a guy convicted of 12 felonies be out of prison more than two years after those convictions as he awaits appeal. But that’s the story of Mike Hubbard, the former Speaker of the House.

Hubbard STILL isn’t in jail, despite the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals upholding his convictions on all but one charge. That decision came down in August, and the court declined to reconsider that decision in September. Hubbard was convicted in June 2016.

He remains free as the Alabama Supreme Court considers his appeal.  

2. Still corrupt

While Hubbard and Robinson garnered most of the headlines over the last year, with their high-profile cases, that didn’t mean other Alabama lawmakers weren’t being indicted. They were.

In the last year, Republicans Ed Henry, Randy Davis and Jack Williams were all indicted for various crimes. All were sitting lawmakers at the time of their indictments. In addition, former GOP chairman Marty Connors was also indicted.

And the corruption didn’t stop there. The head of the EPA in the Southeastern District and the former chairman of the environmental regulatory agency were also indicted on charges of misusing their offices. And several local politicians and sheriffs were also indicted for various misdeeds.  

1. The Red Wave

This year was supposed to be different for Democrats in Alabama. With a national blue wave that saw Democrats pick up an astonishing 40 House seats and earn about 9 million more votes than Republicans across the country, Alabama went the other way.

In statewide races, Republicans earned roughly 60 percent of the vote in every race. And they increased their already-supermajority advantage in the state Legislature. That was mainly due to the straight-ticket voting option on Alabama ballots. (The state is one of just six with such an option.)

That option allowed voters to check a single box and vote for the party of choice instead of individual candidates.

The result: A gubernatorial candidate, Walt Maddox, who traveled thousands of miles across the state and was generally well liked and well received, still lost by 20 points — the same basic result as previous, weaker Democratic candidates for governor — to a Republican, Kay Ivey, who was uninspiring and absent for long stretches during the campaign.

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Corruption

Opinion | An ethics-less day at the Alabama “ethics” commission

Josh Moon

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Alabama does not have an ethics commission.

Oh, sure, there’s a group of people who meet once per month in a room in Montgomery, and the sign out front reads “Alabama Ethics Commission,” but trust me, they’re not.

Because an ethics commission — a real one — has one primary goal: To uphold the ethics laws.

A real ethics commission holds politicians accountable. It punishes them appropriately when they break the ethics laws that govern them. And they never bend or mold rulings based on political pressure or influence.

Alabama doesn’t have that.

It has the opposite of that.

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It has a group of people whose job seems to be figuring out ways for the powerful and corrupt to avoid jail time and fines when they violate our laws, and to hand out free passes to their pals, and to consistently bend to the will to special interests, lobbyists and big businesses when they say to jump.

At no point has the utter incompetence and corruption of Alabama’s faux-ethics commission ever been more obvious than it was on Wednesday.

Behold the work of the five-person panel tasked with upholding ethics laws in this state:

  • The commission kicked off its day by ignoring both the Alabama Attorney General’s Office and the Secretary of State’s Office, which asked the commission to reconsider the improper power it bestowed on itself last meeting, when it decided it could now make campaign finance violations simply vanish.
  • The commissioners then spent several minutes making some of those violations of the law vanish, including doing away with violations for repeat offenders.
  • The commission also approved a request from a former state senator who wanted to go to work the Alabama Policy Institute — a job that would almost certainly lead to him violating the state’s “revolving door” policy that prohibits lawmakers from lobbying their former colleagues within a two-year window. But hey, blowing up properly passed laws is what this commission does.
  • The commission declined to consider an opinion from its own director that would have stated plainly that federal political action committees that donate to Alabama candidates are subject to Alabama’s PAC-to-PAC transfer ban.
  • And finally, it voted 3-2 that there was “insufficient evidence” to determine that AG Steve Marshall violated that PAC-to-PAC ban when he accepted $735,000 in campaign contributions from a PAC that participated in PAC-to-PAC transfers prior to those donations.

So, to sum up, the commission arbitrarily overturned two properly passed laws, ignored attorneys from the state’s top agencies in order to retain improper power, and without the backing of law or reason dismissed clear violations of the laws the commission is supposed to uphold.

All in a day’s work for this group.

But let’s be honest, this is the way many people want this state to operate. They like the backroom deals and under-the-table payoffs. They enjoy being able to buy a legislator here or a two-year schools chief there. They sleep better knowing that they can pay the speaker of the House a monthly stipend and he’ll make sure their business — and no other business in the state — gets an advantage.

These are the people served by Alabama’s ethics commission.

Those people want a weak AG, like Steve Marshall, left in charge of policing them. And why wouldn’t they? Hell, he’s already rewriting the ethics laws to better suit them and he’s fired the one guy who any of them feared. And that’s on top of accepting campaign donations that quite clearly violate Alabama’s laws.

That’s why Marshall got a pass on Wednesday. A weak “ethics” commission protected a weak AG so busines, as usual,l could proceed in Alabama.

The commission did the job it was supposed to do, the job we’ve come to expect it will do. It ignored the law and all ethics to protect the status quo.

Which would be a much more appropriate name.

The status quo commission.

 

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Morgan County DA sues Morgan County Sheriff over inmate food funds

by Josh Moon Read Time: 2 min
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