Connect with us

Crime

Pickens County Sheriff to plead guilty to wire fraud and tax charges

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

Friday a federal indictment was unsealed against Pickens County Sheriff David Eugene Abston (R). Also that same day a plea agreement was filed and Abston resigned as Sheriff after forty years in law enforcement.

The federal indictments for wire fraud and filing false tax returns were announced U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town, FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp, Jr. and IRS-Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Holloman.

According to the plea agreement, the defendant has agreed to plead guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of filing a false tax return. The nine-count indictment filed in U.S. District Court charges Pickens Sheriff Abston with seven counts of wire fraud and two counts of filing a false tax return.

“A sitting county sheriff is alleged to have defrauded a food bank and a church for his personal gain at the expense of the underprivileged that the food bank serves,” Town said. “Our office will continue to aggressively pursue and prosecute public officials who violate the public trust for their own personal gain.”

“No matter what your career or position is within our communities, all U.S. citizens are obligated to comply with the tax laws,” said Holloman. “Honest and law abiding citizens are fed up with the likes of those who use deceit and fraud to line their pockets as well as skirt their tax obligations.”

The indictment states that Sheriff Abston was responsible for the care and custody of prisoners housed in the Pickens County Jail. Abston was responsible for making sure that the inmates were fed. In exchange, Abston was entitled to receive a specified food allowance per prisoner per day from the state of Alabama and other governmental entities. Between 2014 and 2018, Abston received more than $400,000 in food allowance money from the state of Alabama and other governmental entities. Under Alabama law, Abston (like other sheriffs) was allowed to keep excess food funds for himself.

Public Service Announcement

Abston was a member of Highland Baptist Church in Gordo. In 2014 Abston convinced the Church to permit him to open a bank account to be used for a church food pantry with the West Alabama Food Bank (WAFB). Abston opened that bank account, in the name of the Highland Baptist Church Food Pantry. Abston was the sole signatory on the account. The stated purpose of the Tuscaloosa based WAFB is to alleviate hunger in a nine county region of Alabama.

The Church agreed to distribute the food from their church pantry as stated in the terms of the contract.

The application to WAFB that Abston filled out claimed that the food would be used to feed the poor and “children from disadvantage[d] and poor neighborhoods.” The application claimed that the food pantry would use unemployment, sickness, and poverty as eligibility guidelines for distributing the food. Nowhere on the application did it say anything about the food being used to feed the inmates in the Pickens County Jail.

ADVERTISEMENT

According to federal investigators, between 2014 and 2018, Abston wrote more than $80,000 in checks from his own bank account to the church food pantry bank account, and wrote more than $80,000 in checks from the food pantry bank account to WAFB in exchange for food.

The indictment claims that Abston used a significant portion of that food to feed the inmates in the Pickens County Jail. The indictment alleges that Abston filed false tax returns for the 2015 and 2016 tax years, because he failed to report all of his income for those years.

Each count of wire fraud carries a maximum penalty of 20 years and a fine of up to $250,000. The maximum penalty for filing a false tax return is three years in prison and a $100,000 fine for each count.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service investigated the case, which Assistant U.S. Attorney John B. Ward is prosecuting.

Abston was first elected sheriff in 1987 as a Democrat. He switched to the Republican Party prior to the 2018 election. Abston was the police chief in Gordo prior to his election as Sheriff. He previously served as a Tuscaloosa Police officer and in the military police.

An indictment contains only charges and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt before a jury of his peers. Abston has not had a chance to defend himself yet.

Pickens County Coroner Chad Harless has been sworn in as acting Sheriff.
Harless will serve in that role until Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) can appoint a new sheriff to serve the remainder of Abston’s term.

Original reporting by the Tuscaloosa News contributed to this report.

 

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

Advertisement

Crime

Alabama parole officers seize firearms, ammunition and drugs in Enterprise

The seized evidence will be presented to a grand jury for further action and to authorities for potential federal charges.

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

(STOCK PHOTO)

Officers of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles on Wednesday seized two semiautomatic weapons, ammunition and drugs from a convicted armed robber in an operation in Enterprise. One of the seized weapons was stolen.

Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles director Charlie Graddick praised officers Jared McPhaul and Troy Staley for their work.

“The first job every day of our officers is to protect public safety,” Graddick said. “These officers stopped a parolee with a violent history from potentially using illegal weapons to harm someone. We are all grateful for their hard work and dedication.”

The officers arrested parolee Jay Gatewood on a parole violation. Gatewood is out on parole after serving prison time for first-degree robbery and child abuse. Evidence of a possible parole violation was found after a search of Gatewood’s car.

The seized evidence will be presented to a grand jury for further action and to authorities for potential federal charges.

Parolees are required to report to parole officers periodically. Gatewood had failed to report for the month of October so McPhaul directed him to come to the Enterprise office to report. The officers had received a tip that Gatewood might be engaging in illegal activities.

When Gatewood arrived, the officers, acting on the tip, asked if there was anything improper in his vehicle. On questioning, Gatewood admitted to the officers that there was a gun in his car.

Public Service Announcement

McPhaul and Staley then searched the vehicle and found two 9 mm semiautomatic handguns. They also found three ammunition magazines, two of which were fully loaded, and a jar of marijuana with a digital scale.

The parole officers turned the evidence over to the Enterprise Police Department. McPhaul said that one of the guns had been reported stolen.

On March 17, 2008, Gatewood was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the armed robbery of a Dothan law office. He received three additional years for a child abuse conviction.

ADVERTISEMENT

After serving just eight years of his sentence with the Alabama Department of Corrections, Gatewood was paroled in 2016. This was before Graddick was appointed the director of Pardons and Paroles. Gatewood has been supervised by parole officers since his release from prison.

For a convicted criminal to be in possession of firearms is a federal offense. That as well as the possession of illegal drugs and stolen property are all parole violations.

Gatewood, who has been jailed for the alleged parole violations, could potentially have his parole revoked for any one or more of these offenses. That will be determined in a future hearing.

Gatewood could potentially face new charges in the federal system for the gun charge. The stolen property and the marijuana could also be prosecuted in the state court system.

The possession of the digital scale is an indication that the marijuana was for other than personal use.

Depending on the amount of marijuana in the jar and any other evidence presented to the grand jury, Gatewood could potentially face a felony drug charge.

Continue Reading

Crime

Alabama inmate dies after inmate-on-inmate assault

Edwin Wells, 29, died on Oct. 10 from injuries during an apparent inmate-on-inmate assault at the Easterling Correctional Facility, the Alabama Department of Corrections confirmed on Tuesday. 

Eddie Burkhalter

Published

on

(STOCK PHOTO)

A Prattville man became at least the 19th Alabama inmate to have died this year in a state prison of circumstances that were avoidable. 

Edwin Wells, 29, died on Oct. 10 from injuries during an apparent inmate-on-inmate assault at the Easterling Correctional Facility, the Alabama Department of Corrections confirmed on Tuesday. 

Wells death makes at least the 19th inmate to have died from either suicide, drug overdoses or homicide, according to records kept by the ACLU of Alabama’s Campaign for Smart Justice. His death is at least the seventh suspected homicide in state prisons this year. 

ADOC doesn’t typically publish information on an inmate death unless a reporter discovers the death through other means and requests the information, with the expectation of deaths of inmates who tested positive for COVID-19, which the department does regularly release. 

“The ADOC condemns all violence in its facilities, and the fatal actions taken against Wells by another inmate are being thoroughly investigated,” said ADOC spokeswoman Samantha Rose in a message to APR. “Wells’s exact cause of death is pending a full autopsy, and more information will be available upon the conclusion of the investigation into his death.”

A U.S. Department of Justice report in April 2019 found that Alabama’s overcrowded, understaffed prisons for men were likely in violation of the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment and its prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, and that ADOC regularly failed to protect inmates from sexual and physical violence perpetrated by other inmates.

An expected followup report by the Department of Justice in July detailed why the federal government believes systemic use of excessive force within Alabama’s prisons for men violates the Eighth Amendment. 

Public Service Announcement

As of Tuesday, at least 29 state inmates and two prison workers have died after testing positive for COVID-19. There have been 453 confirmed coronavirus cases among inmates and 429 among prison staff as of Oct. 14, according to ADOC.

Continue Reading

Crime

28th Alabama inmate dies after testing positive for COVID-19

Since the start of the pandemic, 441 Alabama inmates and 415 staff have tested positive for coronavirus.

Eddie Burkhalter

Published

on

(STOCK PHOTO)

Johnny Dwight Terry on Oct. 8 became the 28th Alabama inmate to die after testing positive for COVID-19. 

Terry, 74, had multiple health conditions and was taken from Limestone Correctional Facility to a local hospital on Oct. 6 after exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus. He tested positive at the hospital where he remained until his death, the Alabama Department of Corrections said in a press release on Friday. 

Two additional inmates and four workers at Limestone prison also tested positive for COVID-19, according to ADOC, bringing the total number of inmates who have tested positive at the prison to 23 and infected staff to 26. 

Since the start of the pandemic, 441 Alabama inmates and 415 staff have tested positive for coronavirus. Two prison workers at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Woman died after testing positive for the disease. Of the state’s approximately 22,000 inmates, 2,834 had been tested for coronavirus as of Oct. 7, according to ADOC.

Continue Reading

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

Published

on

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.

Public Service Announcement

“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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement