On Wednesday, Congresswoman Terri A. Sewell, D-Selma, sent a letter to the Trump administration renewing her request for an immediate reduction in the sentence of former Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford due to his deteriorating health.
“During this season of hope, I am calling on the Trump Administration to act with compassion and immediately reduce Mayor Langford’s sentence due to his deteriorating health,” said Rep. Terri Sewell. “Justice should be fair but also merciful. Mayor Larry Langford has served over eight years in federal prison and should spend his final days surrounded by family in Birmingham, Alabama.”
Rep. Sewell has been in communication with the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Trump Administration since Sunday urging officials to permit Langford’s release after Rep. Sewell was informed by Mayor Langford’s attorneys of his most recent hospitalization.
According to his attorneys, Langford is in critical condition and is currently in the hospital. Federal prison officials notified the family and they are now at his side. Langford is serving a 15 year sentence for bribery.
Rep. Sewell has previously advocated for the compassionate release of Mayor Langford in 2015 and 2016 during the Obama Administration. Mayor Langford has suffered from worsening, chronic health conditions for years and meets all of the legal criteria for a reduction in sentence as an elderly inmate with medical conditions.
Langford is 72 years old and reportedly suffering from several illnesses including end-stage pulmonary disease, emphysema, and heart failure. A priest was called to attend Langford.
Federal authorities denied Langford’s compassionate release on November 2 and acknowledged that his condition meets the terms for a compassionate release; but said that his crimes were too serious to justify his release.
Langford was indicted on 101 counts of corruption and bribery for his role in accepting bribes in order to refinance Jefferson County’s massive multi-billion dollar sewer debt. The debt was refinanced over and over again in order to generate high bond writing commissions for former Alabama Democratic Party Chairman William “Bill” Blount. Blount, in a plea deal, acknowledged that he bribed Langford repeatedly for Langford to use his position as Chairman of the Jefferson County Commission to urge the other Jefferson County Commissioners to agree to the multiple refinancing schemes.
Eventually Jefferson County switched most of the debt from traditional fixed rate interest rates to auction interest rates where Wall Street investment banks periodically auctioned off the interest rates to the lowest bidders. The Great Recession and the court’s eventual ruling that Jefferson County’s occupation tax were illegal exposed the precarious state of Jefferson County’s finances. As no one wanted to own the Jefferson County sewer debt, the rates soared leading to the county being financially unable to service the debts. The county eventually declared bankruptcy, at that point the largest municipal government bankruptcy in American history. Langford left the Jefferson County Commission before the financial collapse, challenging and defeating incumbent Birmingham Mayor Bernard Kincaid. Kincaid had drawn Langford’s wrath by refusing to enter into a $billion dollar bond with Jefferson County to build a dome stadium. Kincaid has misgivings about the terms of the bond deal that Langford and Blount were proposing.
Jefferson County is out of federal bankruptcy court now; but the sewer rate increases to finance the sewer debts are still being felt by residents and businesses that use the system, which stretches well beyond the borders of Jefferson County.
On Wednesday, more than forty of Langford’s Fairfield neighbors held a prayer service for Langford and urged that he be released. Langford is a former Mayor of Fairfield and a former WBRC channel 6 TV reporter. Langford served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War.
Congresswoman Sewell (D-AL) is serving her fourth term representing Alabama’s 7th Congressional district. She sits on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and was recently appointed to the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. Sewell is a Chief Deputy Whip for the House Democratic Caucus and serves on the prestigious Steering and Policy Committee of the Democratic Caucus. She is also a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, and serves as Vice Chair of the Congressional Voting Rights Caucus, and Vice Chair of Outreach for the New Democrat Coalition.
(Original Reporting by WVTM Channel 13 news and the Alabama Media Group contributed to this report.)