The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit affirmed the convictions of a Birmingham lawyer and an Alabama coal company executive in a scheme to bribe former state Rep. Oliver Robinson, D-Birmingham, to use his office to oppose Environmental Protection Agency actions in north Birmingham.
The appeals court decision was announced by U.S. Attorney Prim F. Escalona.
A jury found former Balch & Bingham partner Joel Iverson Gilbert and former Drummond Company Vice President of Government and Regulatory Affairs David Lynn Roberson guilty of bribery, honest services wire fraud, conspiracy, and money laundering.
At trial, the government showed that, after the EPA notified a Drummond Company subsidiary of its potential liability for cleanup costs, Gilbert and Roberson bribed former Robinson to oppose prioritizing and expanding the EPA superfund site in North Birmingham. Oliver, who represented a district near the area at the time, led bipartisan efforts in the legislature and before the Alabama Department of Environmental Management to oppose the EPA’s efforts to prioritize cleanup of the site. Robinson, along with then Attorney General Luther Strange and many in Alabama government were outspoken advocates of Drummond’s opposition to EPA’s prioritization or expansion of the North Birmingham Superfund site near Robinson’s district.
The government showed that the bribe came in the form of a consulting contract that paid Robinson $360,000 through the Oliver Robinson Foundation, a non-profit organization, between 2015 and 2016. In return, Robinson spoke to EPA officials and state environmental officials, secretly taping his meetings, and cast a vote for a state resolution drafted by Gilbert opposing the EPA’s efforts.
On appeal, Gilbert and Roberson contended that their actions did not meet the legal definition of bribery. The Eleventh Circuit disagreed and affirmed their judgments of conviction. It held that the two “concealed payments of hundreds of thousands of dollars to an Alabama Representative through his charitable foundation” in exchange for his official acts “intended to undermine the Environmental Protection Agency’s . . . efforts to clean up a Superfund site.”
“The Eleventh Circuit confirmed what the jury understood. Joel Gilbert and David Roberson paid a state representative to deprive the voters of north Birmingham of their voice,” Escalona said. “The appellate court’s decision makes clear that the very purpose of our bribery laws is to prohibit such efforts to subvert the will of the community.”
Assistant U.S. Attorneys George Martin, now of the Southern District of Alabama, Robin B. Mark, and J.B. Ward prosecuted the case in the district court. Martin briefed and Assistant U.S. Attorney Praveen Krishna argued the case before the Eleventh Circuit.
The government found no evidence of a wider conspiracy. No other Alabama leaders, Balch & Bingham partners, or Drummond Company executives were found guilty of any wrongdoing in this incident.