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ADOC wants contract with communications company at center of multiple lawsuits, complaints

Josh Moon

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UPDATE: A Securus representative reached out to APR to share updates on two key issues related to the story. First, Securus, after a number of complaints and bad publicity, no longer offers location-based tracking services. Secondly, the company also doesn’t have any control over whether prisons elect to discontinue in-person family visits with inmates. It offers the video conferencing visits as “a supplemental alternative” to in-person visits, but it never suggested the calls should replace those visits.

 

A company that has faced multiple lawsuits for unfair charges and practices, and has drawn the ire of U.S. Senators for selling the personal data of thousands of Americans, is the Alabama Department of Correction’s choice to provide a statewide communications system in Alabama’s prisons.

The Legislature’s Contract Review Committee is set this morning to review a contract proposal between ADOC and Securus Technologies, a Dallas company that is one of the top providers of prison phone services in America. While the Committee can review and place up to a 90-day hold on the contract for review, it ultimately cannot stop any contract that comes before it.

Securus has been accused in other states of unfairly increasing rates on inmates’ phone calls, leaving a captive and helpless clientele to pay more for a 15-minute call than some Americans pay for their monthly cell phone bill.

But it is Securus’ collection of data and tendency to record all phone calls, including those between inmates and their attorneys — and then sell that information — that has drawn heavy criticism from Congressmen and has resulted in numerous lawsuits against the company.

Last May, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden went public with allegations that Securus was using its prisons communications systems to capture location information from cell phones used to make calls to prisoners. It was then selling that information — and selling a real-time tracking service — to law enforcement and other agencies in an apparent violation of federal laws, which require a warrant to obtain such information.

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Additionally, through its contacts at various major telecommunications companies, such as AT&T, Securus was able to purchase location data on thousands of other cell phones, which it would then track illegally and allow its government customers to purchase that information as well. That would be in direct violation of the telecommunication companies’ responsibility to be the sole provider and protector of such information.  

Securus requires its customers to provide a warrant, but company representatives told Wyden that no one ever checked to make sure that the documents uploaded were actual warrants. And in some cases, they were not.

Wyden was so disturbed by what he found that he wrote to the FCC asking that it investigate Securus and its ability to obtain such information and share it with law enforcement and others.

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“This practice skirts wireless carriers’ legal obligation to be the sole conduit by which the government conducts surveillance of Americans’ phone records,” Wyden wrote.

Not surprisingly, Securus has been targeted by hackers, who last year obtained a trove of personal information collected by the company. The hackers, in a demonstration of Securus’ lax security, didn’t publish the information, but instead sent it to a tech website.

But that is not Securus’ only legal issues.

In 2017, a class action lawsuit was filed against the company over its practices of tacking on fees and charging exorbitant rates to prisoners and their family members, essentially preying upon desperate people who had no other option.

One such fee was a 4-percent “location services” fee, which essentially charged prisoners for the costs of collecting the location data that Securus would later sell. The company said it obtained the permission to collect the data from those involved in the calls by way of a pre-recorded message that had the participants press a designated number to accept the terms. A process which left prisoners and their loved ones with the option of disclosing their location data or not speaking for months on end.

“The state should not deal with Securus, a company that takes advantage of vulnerable people,” said Brock Boone, a staff attorney for the Alabama ACLU. “Securus has a track record of  maximizing their profits on the backs of these vulnerable people in a captive market.”

And it gets worse.

In numerous prisons across the country, Securus has ended the in-person prison visit in favor of the $12.99-per-20-minute video call. That has left inmates and their families crying foul and going broke. And it has, of course, resulted in more lawsuits.

“Telephone calls with family and friends are typically the only way people maintain a sense of what it is to be human while being locked in cages in Alabama prisons, and as everyone knows Alabama has some of the most dangerous and inhumane prisons in the country,” Boone said. “So as if the sentences and conditions are not the most egregious in the country, now Securus will make sure the most vulnerable will not be able to afford a phone call to wish their child or mother a happy birthday.”

The Contract Review Committee meets at 8:30 Thursday morning. The specifics of the contract weren’t immediately available. A spokesman for ADOC acknowledged receiving a request for comment from APR, but the department did not issue a response.

 

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Corruption

Attorney general opposes motion to reconsider Hubbard’s prison sentence

“Hubbard is not being punished for his reversed convictions. He is being punished for the crimes of which he remains convicted,” Marshall wrote to the court. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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Former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard reported for his prison sentence at the Lee County Detention Facility on Sept. 11.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall in a court filing Tuesday opposed a request by former House Speaker Mike Hubbard’s attorney for the court to reconsider his 4-year sentence on six felony ethics violations.

Marshall in the filing said that after four years of appeals, Hubbard remains convicted of those felonies.

“This Court’s carefully calibrated sentence of a four-year split, among other penalties, properly accounted for the severity of Hubbard’s crimes, the position of trust he abused, and the need for serious penalties to deter other wrongdoers,” Marshall wrote to the court. “In addition, Hubbard’s refusal to admit any guilt or express any remorse makes him wholly unfit to receive any leniency now that he is finally in jail.”

“In sum, nothing material has changed since Hubbard earned his four-year sentence four years ago. It’s simply time for him to serve it. Accordingly, his motion should be denied,’ Marshall continued.

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.

He began serving his four-year sentence for the six convictions of using his office for personal gain on Sept. 11.

Hubbard’s attorney argued in a separate court filing that the court should reconsider his sentence because five of the 12 convictions were reversed, but Marshall told the court Tuesday that the sentence Hubbard received was just.

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“Hubbard is not being punished for his reversed convictions. He is being punished for the crimes of which he remains convicted,” Marshall wrote to the court.

Hubbard’s attorney in his request to reconsider sentencing also argued that Hubbard has already suffered from a “divestment of his business interests.”

Hubbard’s convictions related to consulting contracts that enriched him while he served as speaker.

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

“Suffice it to say, it is a bad advocacy strategy for Hubbard to mourn his loss of an income stream worth millions, which he financed on the backs of hard-working Alabamians who expected an honest elected official. That Hubbard has lost some of these ill-gotten gains in no way suggests that Hubbard has paid back his debt to society,” Marshall wrote to the court.

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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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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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Corruption

Mike Hubbard booked into jail more than four years after conviction

Eddie Burkhalter

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Former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard has been booked into jail to begin serving his four-year sentence for ethics violations. (VIA LEE COUNTY DETENTION CENTER)

Former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard was booked into the Lee County Detention Center at 5:05 p.m. Friday, beginning a four-year prison sentence that took years to start after his original conviction in 2016. He is now 57.

Former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard has been booked into jail to begin serving his four-year sentence for ethics violations. (VIA LEE COUNTY DETENTION CENTER)

The Alabama Supreme Court in April upheld six of Hubbard’s 11 convictions of using his office for personal gain. A Lee County Circuit Judge had sentenced Hubbard to prison for four years. He was to turn himself into the Lee County Detention Center to be processed into the Alabama Department of Corrections system.

Prior to turning himself in on Friday, Hubbard had been out on bond for four years. The Alabama Supreme Court on Aug. 28 announced that the court had denied Hubbard’s appeal for a new hearing.

“The long road to justice is finally nearing its end for former Speaker Mike Hubbard,” said Attorney General Steve Marshall in a statement. “The court denied Mr. Hubbard’s application for rehearing and issued a certificate of judgment requiring the former speaker to report to begin serving his prison sentence.”

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