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Corruption

Birmingham Waterworks Board owes $957 million

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday, the embattled Birmingham Water Works held a public meeting to discuss raising water rates 3.9 percent. One of the listed goals of the rate increase was to reduce the public utility’s debt which has grown to a staggering $957 million.

The debt has grown despite raising rates every year since 2012 by between 3.9 percent and 4.9 percent.

The average customer would see their water bill climb from $43.43 a month to $44.63 per month.

Earlier this month, Birmingham Water Works Board member and former President Sherry Lewis was found guilty on felony ethics charges. She will be sentenced on December 12.

“We’re very pleased with the jury in Jefferson County, who sat patiently and heard significant evidence of corruption over the last week and a half, obviously engaged in serious deliberation for the last day and a have and has returned a verdict that speaks loudly.” Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall (R) told reporters. “Our ethics laws work in Alabama and we are going to enforce them throughout the state. We’re going to hold public officials accountable when they break those rules.”

Lewis was found guilty of two counts of voting on a matter in which she or a family matter had a financial gain.

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Two other alleged conspirators are scheduled to go on trial in January.

Some state legislators have argued that the 2010 state ethics law is overly harsh and too demanding and argue for reforming the law to give public officials more leniency in their private lives. Critics argue that those efforts would only weaken the ethics law and make it harder for state prosecutors to prosecute corruption.

The indictments come after a lengthy investigative grand jury process by the Alabama Attorney General’s office.

Even though the Birmingham Waterworks Board is a public utility; the legislature has prohibited it from falling under the jurisdiction of the Alabama Public Service Commission, which regulates public utilities.

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The BWWB is regulated at the state level only by the Alabama Attorney General’s office, whose primary role is to enforce state law and defend the state against law suits.

Environmentalists claim that there is no effective oversight of the BWWB.

“A couple of years ago, I called the AG office as a ratepayer with a legitimate complaint, and despite phone calls and emails, I got literally nowhere,” one environmental researcher told the Alabama Political Reporter. :That’s why it took a lawyer to question the proposed sale of 120 acres of untouched land within the watershed to the AG office.”

“How are the ratepayers supposed to communicate with the Almighty Overseer of our rights?” the researcher and activist asked APR.

On January 29, 2001 the BWWB signed a settlement agreement with then Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor (R) in which the Board agreed to hold lands that it owns in perpetuity as a conservation easement in order to protect the health of the watershed.

The Board in recent years has declared hundreds of wilderness acres “surplus” and sold them to land developers. The environmentalists believe that the Board has violated the terms of that 2001 consent decree,

Almost a quarter of Alabama’s population receive their water directly or indirectly from the BWWB.

(Original reporting by Birmingham TV stations ABC33/40 and CBS42 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.

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Corruption

Judge reduces former Alabama Speaker Mike Hubbard’s prison sentence

The trial court judge ordered his 48-month sentence reduced to 28 months.

Eddie Burkhalter

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

Lee County Circuit Court Judge Jacob Walker on Wednesday reduced former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard’s prison sentence from four years to just more than two. 

Walker in his order filed Wednesday noted that Hubbard was sentenced to fours years on Aug. 9, 2016, after being convicted of 12 felony ethics charges for misusing his office for personal gain, but that on Aug. 27, 2018, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals reversed convictions on one counts. The Alabama Supreme Court later struck down another five counts.

Hubbard’s attorneys on Sept. 18 filed a motion to revise his sentence, to which the state objected, according to court records, arguing that “Hubbard’s refusal to admit any guilt or express any remorse makes him wholly unfit to receive any leniency.”   

Walker in his order cited state code and wrote that the power of the courts to grant probation “is a matter of grace and lies entirely within the sound discretion of the trial court.” 

“Furthermore, the Court must consider the nature of the Defendant’s crimes. Acts of public corruption harm not just those directly involved, but harm society as a whole,” Walker wrote.

Walker ruled that because six of Hubbard’s original felony counts were later reversed, his sentence should be changed to reflect that, and ordered his 48-month sentence reduced to 28 months. 

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Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall on Wednesday said Walker’s decision to reduce Hubbard’s sentence was the wrong message to send.

“Mr. Hubbard was convicted of the intentional violation of Alabama’s ethics laws, the same laws he championed in the legislature only later to brazenly disregard for his personal enrichment,” Marshall said in a statement. “Even as he sits in state prison as a six-time felon, Mike Hubbard continues to deny any guilt or offer any remorse for his actions in violation of the law.  Reducing his original four-year sentence sends precisely the wrong message to would-be violators of Alabama’s ethics laws.”

Hubbard was booked into the Lee County Jail on Sept. 11, more than four years after his conviction. On Nov. 5 he was taken into custody by the Department of Corrections.

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Corruption

State Rep: Lee County DA’s past cases should be reviewed by AG, DOJ

Rep. Jeremy Gray, D-Opelika, wants the AG’s office or DOJ to examine all of the DA’s previous cases for similar issues.

Josh Moon

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Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes

A state representative from Lee County is calling on the Alabama attorney general’s office and the Department of Justice to open an investigation into past cases handled by indicted Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes. 

Rep. Jeremy Gray, D-Opelika, said that in light of the details regarding Hughes’ indictment and arrest, he wants the AG’s office or DOJ to examine all of Hughes’s previous cases for similar issues. Gray also wants the public to be allowed to come forward if they were ever extorted or mistreated by Hughes. 

“In light of the very serious and disturbing charges facing Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes, and the brazen nature of his alleged crimes in which he used the power of his office to extort vulnerable citizens — including by threatening them with bogus charges — I call on the Alabama Attorney General’s Office and the US Department of Justice to open an inquiry into possible other instances in which Hughes misused the power of his office against the people of Lee County,” Gray said in a statement. “That investigation should include a thorough review of all convictions and indictments procured by Hughes and should allow the people of Lee County an opportunity to report any additional instances of Hughes misusing his office.”

Hughes was charged on Monday with seven felony ethics counts, including allegedly using a DA’s subpoena to steal a pickup truck and using another subpoena to allegedly coerce a private business into aiding his defense. Hughes was also accused of hiring private attorneys with public money to benefit himself and his wife, and accused of hiring his three children to work in his office. 

He was arrested Monday afternoon on felony perjury charges for lying to a grand jury about his alleged crimes.

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Corruption

Lee County DA arrested on second perjury charge

The arrest was based on a complaint filed by Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office, charging him with first-degree perjury.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes

Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes — who was arrested Sunday on seven counts of ethics violations, theft and perjury — was arrested again on Monday for an additional perjury charge, according to the Alabama attorney general’s office. 

Hughes on Monday was booked in Montgomery County jail based on a complaint filed by Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office, charging him with an additional count of first-degree perjury for allegedly giving false testimony to the Alabama Ethics Commission. 

Hughes was previously indicted on five counts of violating the state ethics act for using his office for personal gain, including paying private attorneys with public funds to settle a matter that benefited himself and his wife, according to Marshall’s office. He was also charged with illegally hiring his three children to work for his office. 

The grand jury also indicted Hughes on a charge of illegally using his office for personal benefit by issuing a district attorney’s subpoena to a private business to gather evidence for his defense to potential criminal charges, according to the statement. 

Hughes was also charged with conspiracy for allegedly agreeing with others to steal a 1985 Ford Ranger pickup truck from a Chambers County business by using a Lee County search warrant to force the business to release possession of the truck, according to the statement. 

The five violations of the state ethics law charged in the indictment are Class B felonies, punishable by two to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $30,000. The charges of conspiracy to commit first-degree theft and first-degree perjury are Class C felonies, each punishable by one year and one day to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.

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Lee County DA Brandon Hughes indicted on 7 counts of ethics violations, theft and perjury

The attorney general’s office said Hughes was indicted by a Lee County grand jury on ethics, theft and perjury charges.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall on Monday announced the indictment of Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughs on multiple charges. 

Marshall’s office in a statement said Hughes was indicted by a Lee County grand jury on ethics, theft and perjury charges. Hughes turned himself in to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office on Sunday and was released on bond. 

Hughes indictments include five counts of violating the state ethics act for using his office for personal gain, including paying private attorneys with public funds to settle a matter that benefited himself and his wife, according to Marshall’s office. He is also charged with illegally hiring his three children to work for his office. 

The grand jury also indicted Hughes on a charge of illegally using his office for personal benefit by issuing a district attorney’s subpoena to a private business to gather evidence for his defense to potential criminal charges, according to the statement. 

Hughes was also charged with conspiring to steal a pickup truck for allegedly agreeing with others to steal the truck from a Chambers County business by using a Lee County search warrant to force the business to release possession of the 1985 Ford Ranger, according to the statement. 

Hughes is also charged with first-degree perjury for providing false testimony to the special grand jury, according to Marshall’s office. 

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The five violations of the state ethics act charged in the indictment are Class B felonies, punishable by two to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $30,000. The charges of conspiracy to commit first-degree theft and first-degree perjury are Class C felonies, each punishable by one year and one day to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.

In September, Hughes was named prosecutor of the year by the victims’ advocacy organization Victims of Crime and Leniency. He was elected as Lee County district attorney in 2016.

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