Friday, the Randolph County grand jury returned forty counts against former Randolph County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy William “Billy” Lane.
Lane was indicted on eleven counts of using his official office for personal gain, one count of first degree theft of property, and for 28 counts fraudulent use of a debit or credit card.
The indictments were announced by District Attorney D. Jeremy Duerr.
“Public officials are, and should be, held to a higher standard as these indictments show,” District Attorney Duerr said in a statement. “As your district attorney for the Fifth Judicial Circuit, I along with my staff, take the prosecution of these cases very seriously.”
The indictments are based on an investigation by the Alabama Ethics Commission and was based on multiple complaint filings.
The first 12 indictments are class B felonies which carry a sentence of not less than two years and no more than twenty years. The other 28 charges are class D felonies, which carry a sentence of not less than one year and no more than five years.
Lane is accused of misusing an account belonging to the Randolph County Sheriff Office’s Rodeo Association.
According to Linkedin, Lane worked for the Randolph County Sheriffs Office for 8 years after almost 14 years with the Roanoke Police Department. He is a graduate of Randolph County High School.
The Fifth Judicial Circuit includes: Tallapoosa, Chambers, Macon, and Randolph Counties.
An indictment by a grand jury simply means that the grand jury believes that the prosecution has enough evidence to bring the case to court. Lane will have an opportunity to present a defense against the charges in a court of law before a jury of his peers.
DA defends imprisonment of disabled vet for marijuana charges
West Alabama District Attorney Andy Hamlin defended the court decision to revoke Sean Worsley’s probation, sending the Black disabled veteran to state prison for 60 months on felony marijuana charges. Hamlin spoke to APR in a phone interview about the case.
Sean Worsley is a Black disabled veteran who was arrested on felony marijuana charges in Gordo in Pickens County in August 2016.
Advocates for marijuana legalization, sentencing reform and for veterans have denounced Worsley’s treatment by the Alabama court system. On April 28 a circuit judge in Alabama revoked the Arizona man’s Alabama probation, so he faces spending 60 months of his life as a guest of the Alabama Department of Corrections.
Hamlin is the district attorney for Alabama’s Fourth Judicial Circuit, which includes Fayette, Lamar and Pickens counties.
“One thing that is being lost in this is that he was noncompliant,” Hamlin said.
Hamlin said that Worsley was dismissed from the VA drug treatment program because he was noncompliant with the conditions of the program. That Worsley receive drug treatment for his marijuana addiction was a condition of his probation agreement.
“He would not conform. That is my understanding,” Hamlin said.
Under Alabama law, possession of more than 2.2 pounds of marijuana is trafficking, a felony. Hamlin had considerably less than that. In non-trafficking cases there are several options that a person can be charged with. A key designation is whether the marijuana is “for personal use” or “for other than personal use.” In Worsley’s case, the arresting officer in Gordo made the determination that Worsley’s marijuana was for “other than personal use.”
Hamlin said that the arresting officer made the correct determination based on the evidence. In addition to the marijuana, Worsley had scales for measuring the marijuana and paper for rolling his own joints. The marijuana had also been removed from the prescription bottle it came in and been repackaged.
Hamlin said that the marijuana was for other than personal use was “a finding of fact. The charge was substantiated not only by the evidence; but it was spoken by the defendant in open court.” Hamlin is referring to Worsley’s admission of guilt when he pleaded guilty.
Worsley and his wife Eboni maintain that the marijuana was bought legally in Arizona, where Worsley had a valid medical marijuana card.
APR asked if Alabama should be locking people up for five years for something that is legal in 33 states.
“We don’t make the law, we enforce it,” Hamlin said of his job as district attorney. “If you want to change the law, then run for the Legislature.”
APR asked why Worsley was charged with a Class C felony rather than another possible charge. Hamlin said that because it was a finding of fact that the marijuana was for other than personal use, it did not qualify to be treated as a Class D felony (which would have avoided imprisonment) or a Class A misdemeanor which could have brought a sentence of six months in the Pickens County jail. Hamlin maintained that under the sentencing guidelines, the Class C felony is the appropriate charge and is the charge it would have brought before the state passed sentencing reform in 2016.
State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. Ward sponsored the sentencing reform legislation in 2016. He disagrees with the sentence and called it “egregious.”
Ward said that wording giving law enforcement the power to determine whether the marijuana was “for personal use” or was for “other than personal use” was already in Alabama law. The sentencing reform did not add that — but did not change that.
Hamlin said that Worsley was indicted by a Pickens County Grand Jury. APR asked how many Black people were on the grand jury. Hamlin said that he could not remember and it would be a violation of the secrecy of the grand jury process to share that.
Leah Nelson with Alabama Appleseed wrote a lengthy recap of the Worsley case. In it, Eboni Worsley argues that she has had to assume the role of Sean Worsley’s guardian following his being wounded in the Iraq War and his post-traumatic stress disorder.
APR asked Hamlin if he had a professional evaluate Worsley’s competency to stand trial and to enter into that plea agreement.
“No, because it was never alleged that he was not competent to stand trial,” Hamlin said. “He was very cognizant and coherent. If I thought he was entering a plea involuntarily I would not have gone through with it.”
“An assessment has never been done,” Hamlin said, because the defense never asked for it. It is up to the defense to request that.
APR asked if Worsley had competent legal counsel.
Hamlin said that Worsley was represented not only by a court appointed attorney, but his family hired an attorney out of Birmingham to represent him.
APR asked: this all began in 2016 when Chris McCool was the DA. He is now on the Criminal Court of Appeals. Did you inherit this case from the previous DA?
Hamlin said that he was the assistant DA under McCool and actually handled this case then. While DA, like judge, is an elected position in Alabama, Hamlin was appointed DA to fill the vacancy by Gov. Kay Ivey.
“He went to prison out of a probation revocation,” Hamlin said. “If he had gotten into some kind of treatment we absolutely would not be here.”
“This was the last resort with his probation revocation,” Hamlin said. “Talk to his Arizona probation officer. The reason we are here is because of his actions.”
“I am sympathetic with the situation,” Hamlin insisted.
APR said that we talked with a PTSD counselor on Monday who said that many of his clients with PTSD use marijuana to self-medicate their symptoms.
“I have great respect for him and his service, but the rule of law has to be maintained,” Hamlin told APR.
APR asked: some have suggested that Worsley received worse treatment from the court system than a white person would.
“That is an absolute pile of crap,” Hamlin said. “That is ridiculous and insulting that they would even say that.”
APR asked if Hamlin has sent anybody else to state prison on felony marijuana charges.
“Yes, I have,” Hamlin said.
Hamlin shared the court order revoking Worsley’s probation:
“The Defendant admitted violating the terms of his/her probation as alleged by the State. The Court further notes that this was the Defendant’s 4th felony conviction. The Defendant was previously allowed to participate in a drug rehabilitation program but refused to comply with program requirements and had failed to report to probation for over two years. Upon consideration of the evidence presented by the State at the Defendant’s probation revocation hearing, the Court finds the above-named Defendant to be in violation of the above listed probation condition(s) and the Court is reasonably satisfied from the evidence that a violation of the conditions or regulations of probation occurred as specified in the Order of Probation, of which the Defendant has received a written copy. Accordingly, the Defendant’s probation is hereby REVOKED. The Defendant shall receive credit for all time served on this charge. DONE this 28th day of April, 2020.”
Chey Garrigan is the chief executive director of the Alabama Cannabis Industry Association. Garrigan said that Worsley should not spend years of his life in Alabama’s dangerous and overcrowded prison system.
“The events that led to the imprisonment of Sean Worley, is NOT the FOCUS!” Garrigan said. “The focus is Alabama needs a medical cannabis program to include: the immediate release of non-violent offenders with any type of marijuana charges.”
“Sean Worsley matters,” Garrigan said. “A medical cannabis program in Alabama will boost the economy and create high paying jobs. If Alabama had a medical cannabis program, he would most likely not be imprisoned today.”
Garrigan is urging the court to commute the remainder of Worsley’s sentence and release him on time served.
Ward estimates that out of the 23,000 inmates in the Alabama Department of Corrections, 60 or 70 are there for marijuana charges only. Most of those are for trafficking.
Michael Fritz is the general counsel for the ALCIA.
“The ALCIA is fighting to allow those already suffering to have access to proper medication without the fear of becoming a felon,” Fritz said. “Sean Worsley is a prime example of why we are fighting. Medical Marijuana can help our veterans that suffer from PTSD, anxiety as well as pain from physically disabilities.”
Hamlin said that Worsley now has six felony convictions in multiple states.
U.S. Attorney Jay Town announces resignation
Jay Town, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, on Friday announced his resignation and plans to work at a Huntsville defense contractor and cybersecurity solutions company.
Town’s resignation will be effective Wednesday, July 15, according to a press release.
“After much thoughtful prayer and great personal consideration, I have made the decision to resign as the United States Attorney of the Northern District of Alabama. I have tendered my resignation to Attorney General William Barr. General Barr expressed his gratitude for my service to the Department of Justice and to the Northern District and, despite having hoped I would continue in my role, understood and respected my decision,” Town said in a statement.
“I am extremely grateful to President Trump, to whom I also tendered a letter, for his special trust and confidence in me to serve as the U.S. Attorney. It was an honor to be a part of this Administration with an unrivaled class of United States Attorneys from around the nation. I will forever remain thankful to those who supported my nomination and my tenure as the U.S. Attorney,” Town continued.
Town said his job with the unnamed Huntsville defense contractor and cybersecurity solutions company is to begin later this year, and the company is to announce his position “in a few weeks.”
“The Attorney General of the United States will announce my replacement in the coming days or weeks,” Town said in the release.
Town has served in his position since confirmation by the U.S. Senate in August 2017. Prior to that appointment, Town was a prosecutor in the Madison County District Attorney’s office from 2005 until 2017.
Attorney General William Barr in a statement Friday offered gratitude for Town’s three years of service.
“Jay’s leadership in his District has been immense. His contributions to the Department of Justice have been extensive, especially his work on the China Initiative and most recently as a Working Group Chair on the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice. I appreciate his service to our nation and to the Justice Department, and I wish him the very best,” Barr said in a statement.
The U.S. Justice Department in April 2019 notified Gov. Kay Ivey that the department’s lengthy investigation into the state’s prisons for men found systemic problems of violence, sexual assaults, drugs and corruption which are likely violations of the inmates’ Constitutional protections from cruel and unusual punishment.
Town’s office leads the discussions between the U.S Department of Justice and the state on the prison conditions.
Problems with violence, deaths and drugs in Alabama’s overcrowded, understaffed prisons have not markedly improved in the year’s since the U.S. Department of Justice released its report.
Under cloak of secrecy, dark money nonprofit targets Birmingham law firm
From the beginning, Forbes’s “BanBalch.com” website set out to tarnish the law firm by claiming to expose “unsettling controversies surrounding Balch & Bingham,” much of which stems from allegations, inference and speculation.
A California-based, dark money organization has set up shop in Alabama. It appears the move has substantially improved the group’s financial outlook and altered its core mission.
Because of the group’s federally protected status, it is impossible for the public to know who is pouring cash into Consejo de Latinos Unidos — translated as United Latinos Council — but a state tax lien and its CEO’s website may offer a peek at what might be hiding behind the nonprofit’s dark-money veil of secrecy.
Founded in 2001, and originally headquartered in Los Angeles, CDLU’s stated mission, according to reports was to “foster, encourage and develop educational opportunities and programs in Latino communities.”
Leaving its Latino-centric advocacy roots, the current website says the group’s “primary mission is helping to provide urgent and life-saving medical care for those in need with nowhere else to turn.”
Although it relocated to Birmingham sometime between 2013 and 2014, CDLU has never registered with the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office — and its board of directors is still located in California and elsewhere.
In 2017, it appears CDLU once again found an added purpose for its activities far from its previously stated missions.
CDLU’s CEO, Kevin Brendan Forbes, who goes by his initials “K.B.” launched a website in 2017, on which he targets Birmingham-based law firm Balch & Bingham.
Mother Jones characterizes Forbes as a “self-styled ‘child of the Reagan revolution,’ [who] grew up in a mixed household in a Los Angeles suburb.” Forbes also worked for far right-wing commentator and one time Republican presidential hopeful Pat Buchanan, as well as media-mogul and former Republican presidential contender Steve Forbes. (The men are not related.)
Why a leader of a nonprofit would devote daily energy to attacking a law firm is not entirely clear, but it seems to have begun with what Forbes refers to as the “Newsome Conspiracy Case,” which involves an extended court battle between Burt Newsome, a Birmingham attorney, and Balch & Bingham.
Not only did CDLU’s focus change when Forbes became close to Newsome, the organization’s fortunes began to improve, as well.
Forbes is considered the driving force behind the group’s ventures in Alabama. He is also personal friends with Newsome. Facebook posts show both Newsome and Forbes’ wives enjoying social events on multiple occasions.
There is a direct friendship between the wives of Forbes and Newsome. They have been friends since at least 2016 and posts show a number of public interactions since then.
Forbes reserved the website “BanBalch.com” shortly after the Newsome and Forbes families formed a friendship, and the website’s first articles were aimed squarely at Newsome’s lawsuit with Balch & Bingham.
From the beginning, the website set out to tarnish the law firm by claiming to expose “unsettling controversies surrounding Balch & Bingham,” much of which stems from allegations, inference and speculation.
Under the banner of his nonprofit, Forbes has also taken further steps to attack the firm’s largest clients.
Forbes has taken credit for costing Balch & Bingham hundreds of thousands of dollars in client fees while also remaining fixated on the firm, writing Newsome a check to settle the disputed lawsuit with CDLU as mediator.
Why would CDLU offer itself as a mediator in a private lawsuit especially given the fact that Forbes is not an attorney?
From a ragtag blog to a more sophisticated web presence, BanBalch.com has expanded its coverage to include those associated with Balch & Bingham.
Veteran politicos who asked not to be directly quoted in this article to avoid being dragged into Forbes’ intrigues suggest that those with other darker motives could use the site for a broader political agenda. These insiders question whether political operatives are now feeding Forbes opposition research and money to do their bidding.
As a federally sanctioned nonprofit, CDLU must complete an annual tax filing.
Federal Form 990, the annual statement that must be filed by all IRS recognized nonprofit organizations, shows that in the past five years, annual gross income of CDLU averaged $7,030. The last 990 filed for the year 2018 shows CDLU finishing the year with a $12,363 deficit, and all the 990s filed by CDLU for the past decade show the nonprofit has never paid anyone a salary.
While the 990 for 2019 is not due until November of this year, a tax lien from the state of Alabama filed on January 3, 2020, suggests that in the first three months of 2019, CDLU paid someone or some number of people between $186,000 to more than $500,000. The lien for $11,671.73 was for unpaid withholding tax to the state of Alabama — including up to a 25 percent penalty.
Depending on the number of people paid and the amount each person was paid, this lien represents a minimum of $186,000 in compensation paid and a maximum possibility of more than $580,000.
As a 501(C)(3), Forbes’ organization is not required under federal law to publicly disclose donors. As a charitable organization, it is barred from engaging in political activity or supporting political candidates, and while most “dark money” groups are 501(C)(4)s for this reason, (C)(3)s operate with similar opacity in regard to their funding sources, though many publicly disclose their donors in the interest of transparency.
501(C)(3)s are also required to remain true to their founding purpose unless they notify the IRS in advance of the change in purpose.
An organization with a long history of little income and zero salaries appears from the lien documents to have paid more in compensation in the first four months of 2019, than it had collected in gross income for more than five years. Where did the money come from and what was CDLU doing to attract this kind of investor?
In his writings, Forbes has made it clear that paying Newsome would make the attacks on Balch & Bingham and the firm’s clients go away.
Excerpts from an article Forbes has posted at least twice summarize the central focus of his efforts:
Forbes’s words would seem to indicate that he set out to harm Balch & Bingham to force them to pay Newsome.
Is Forbes attacking the firm’s clients to coerce a payment to Newsome? Did someone pay CDLU hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2019, as is indicated by the tax lien. Did Forbes pay his friend Newsome all or any of this money? Where did the money come from and who did Forbes pay?
Nonprofit organizations like CDLU do not have to reveal their donors. But during 2019, Forbes’ attacks on Balch & Bingham’s clients took on a wide-ranging field of subjects.
Politicos, who spoke with APR, posed the following questions: Did someone recognize that Forbes had created a communication channel through which they could accomplish goals that had nothing to do with Burt Newsome? Was a rival law firm paying Forbes to attack Balch to steal Balch’s clients? Could environmental groups or their supporters be paying Forbes to attack utility companies? Were Washington-based lobbying firms paying Forbes to bolster their efforts to take Balch’s national lobbying contracts?
The answer to these questions would easily be resolved if Forbes revealed who was paying him.
Forbes has indicated in writing that “this blog would not exist” if someone would just write Newsome a very large check.
Forbes has attacked clients of Balch & Bingham and told the clients the attacks would go away if they forced Balch to settle with Newsome, according to APR‘s sources.
A veteran of hundreds of legal skirmishes who, like others, asked not to be quoted because of Forbes’ propensity to write unfounded accusations, said Forbes’ actions in his opinion rose to extortion and tortious interference with business relationships.
Forbes has never fully explained why his nonprofit moved from California to Alabama, nor why CDLU’s mission changed from Latino advocacy in Los Angeles to attacking a Birmingham law firm and its client.
When social media hoaxes and fake news are trade craft, there is a ready market for blogs like BanBalch.com, insiders believe.
The question that may need answering by law-enforcement is what is going on at CDLU that would allow them to operate Banbalch.com under a cloak of federally sanctioned secrecy?
Supreme Court sides with Alabama in COVID-19 voting case
The U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision Thursday blocked a federal district judge’s order that would have made it easier for many Alabamians to vote during the pandemic, issuing an emergency stay of the lower court’s injunction in People First of Alabama v. Merrill.
The court’s more liberal justices dissented, while the five conservative justices voted to strike down the lower court ruling, which had blocked absentee ballot witness requirements in a few Alabama counties and a statewide ban on curbside voting programs.
The decision to grant the stay means that Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill’s ban on curbside voting remains in place, and he may intervene into any county in Alabama to prevent curbside voting.
Voters in every county in the state must still follow all the required witness, notary and photo ID requirements for absentee ballots.
Federal District Judge Abdul Kallon had found in favor of the plaintiffs and issued an order allowing local officials to implement curbside voting. Merrill and the secretary of state’s office appealed the lower court ruling to the Supreme Court, who issued the emergency stay.
The court could still hear Alabama’s appeal, but the ruling was a blow for the groups representing the plaintiffs in the case. Caren Short is the senior staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“While we are deeply disappointed with today’s ruling, we look forward to presenting our clients’ case at trial later this summer,” said Short. “Our goal is simple though unfortunately at odds with Alabama officials. We want to ensure that during the COVID-19 pandemic, Alabama voters will not be forced to choose between exercising their fundamental right to vote and protecting their health or the health of a loved one.”
Deuel Ross is the senior counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
“We are deeply disappointed by the Supreme Court‘s stay,” said Ross. “Unfortunately, this means that Alabama voters who are at greater risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 will be required to risk their health and violate CDC recommendations in order to vote on July 14. This is occurring at a time when COVID-19 infections are soaring in Alabama and nationwide. Nonetheless, the litigation will continue and we intend to seek relief for our clients and other voters in time for November.”
Plaintiffs argued that making voters go to the polls and wait in line to show a photo-ID would be a bar to voting given the fear of the coronavirus in Alabama. Voters will have to decide whether voting in the July 14 party runoff elections is really worth the risk of possibly contracting the novel strain of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and possibly dying.
At least 14 Alabamians died from COVID-19 on Thursday, taking the state death toll to 961. Additionally, 1,162 Alabamians tested positive for the coronavirus.
The state argues that voter ID and other security measures are necessary to protect the integrity of the vote and prevent voting fraud. Since his election as Alabama secretary of state, Merrill has said that it is his goal to “make it easy to vote and hard to cheat.”