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Friday, June 23, 2017
Ana's biggest fear
Blogger Comments: Ana's biggest fear is a Federal Grand Jury Indictment against her for multiple crimes. How will Ana sweet talk the outside agencies that investigate Federal Crimes? U.S. Attorney Announces Charges Against Former Alabama Representative Oliver Robinson
Former Alabama Rep. Oliver Robinson has entered into a plea agreement to federal bribery, conspiracy, fraud, and tax evasion charges that he received bribes through his foundation from a coal company and law firm to advocate against EPA efforts to expand the number of polluted areas slated for cleanup in and around north Birmingham.
According to a court document, Robinson has been charged with conspiracy, bribery, honest services wire fraud, three other counts of wire fraud, and tax evasion.
The charges were filed against Robinson on Thursday by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Birmingham. The plea agreement was entered at the same time.
Robinson is to appear before a U.S. magistrate judge on July 13 for his arraignment on the charges. A date has not been set for him to enter his guilty plea.
The charges outline a conspiracy that the Oliver Robinson Foundation was paid money through a valuable contract with the law firm Balch & Bingham and the Oliver Robinson Foundation. The law firm, which represented the Drummond Company and its property ABC Coke in opposing adding land in Tarrant and the Inglenook neighborhood of Birmingham to the Superfund's National Priorities List.
An unnamed partner (identified as Attorney #1) at Balch & Bingham and an unnamed Drummond employee (Employee #1) were involved in the conspiracy, according to the charges.
Balch & Bingham represented Drummond and ABC Coke in relation to the 35th Avenue site.
"Attorney #1" coordinated the response to EPA's actions on behalf of ABC Coke and Drummond Company. "Drummond Employee #1," was involved with the attorney in responding to EPA. The two formed the Alliance for Jobs and the Economy as a tax-exempt corporation in 2015 to raise money to help fund their opposition to the EPA actions, according to the charges.
The strategy employed by the attorney and the Drummond executive focused on protecting ABC Coke and Drummond from the tremendous potential costs associated with being held responsible for pollution within the affected areas, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorneys Office. They sought to accomplish this goal by working to prevent EPA from listing the 35th Avenue site on the National Priorities List and expanding the Superfund site into Tarrant and Inglenook.
The plan included advising residents of North Birmingham and public officials to oppose EPA's actions, according to court documents.
As part of the overall strategy, Balch & Bingham paid Robinson, through his non-profit foundation, to represent Balch & Bingham's and its clients' interests, exclusively, in matters related to EPA's actions in North Birmingham. Over the course of the contract in 2015 and 2016, Balch & Bingham paid $360,000 to the foundation.
No charges have been filed against the Drummond employee and Balch attorney.
But Robinson is cooperating in an on-going investigation, said Robert Posey, acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama. A federal grand jury also is looking at the case, he said.
Posey said that Robinson represented the interests of those who paid him rather than those residents he was elected to represent. Robinson accepted $360,000 in contracts in the bribery scheme, he said.
The key event, Posey said, was when Robinson went before the Alabama Environmental Commission in 2015 and urged them to resist EPA efforts to clean up polluted neighborhoods in and around north Birmingham.
"This case gets at the heart of public corruption in Alabama," Posey said in a statement to reporters today. "Well-funded special interests offer irresistible inducements to public officials. In exchange, the officials represent the interests of those who pay rather than the interests of those who vote. Here a public official betrayed his community to advocate for those who polluted their neighborhoods."
Richard S. Jaffe and Michael Whisonant Jr. of the law firm of Jaffe, Hanle, Whisonant & Knight, P.C., who represent Robinson, issued this statement:
"Oliver is deeply aware that he has let down the public, his constituents and his family as it relates to certain decisions he made that he deeply regrets. Entering into a plea agreement with the government represents the clearest evidence that he is taking complete responsibility for his mistakes and misjudgments. Since the investigation unfolded, He has been, and intends to remain, faithful to the truth as he moves forward and puts the past behind him. He offers no excuse- just deep remorse- for his past actions."
In his plea deal Robinson agrees never again to seek elected office and pledges to pay restitution and forfeiture. Robinson will be sentenced under federal sentencing guidelines and will likely face prison time, Posey said.
Two of the wire fraud charges brought against Robinson do not relate to the bribery conspiracy. Those two counts relate to Robinson spending $17,783 of campaign contributions on personal items unrelated to his legislative campaigns.
Two of the expenditures identified in the charges was a $2,024 charge in December 2013 at Saks Fifth Avenue and a $400 charge in February 2014 at Victoria's Secret.
Another wire fraud count charges Robinson with soliciting money from corporations, representing he would use it to publish a magazine or to defray costs for an annual Partnering for Progress Business Conference or the annual Alabama Black Achievers Awards Gala, which the Oliver Robinson Foundation sponsored, a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office explained. Robinson spent at least $250,000 of those contributions on personal items unrelated to the magazine or the annual events, according to the settlement.
The FBI and IRS investigated the case, which Assistant U.S. Attorneys George Martin and Robin Beardsley Mark are prosecuting.
His resignation late last year stunned many in Alabama political circles. He said at the time he was resigning so his daughter, Amanda Robinson, could keep a job as a legislative liaison in Gov. Robert Bentley's administration without her having a conflict of interest.
Robinson, a former basketball star at UAB, served in the Alabama Legislature for almost two decades. Despite being a Democrat in a Republican-controlled Legislature, he held considerable power before he resigned. He had seats on the House Rules Committee, the House Financial Services Committee, and served as co-chair of the Jefferson County delegation.
The foundation later paid Robinson's daughter, Amanda, who actively sought to discourage poor north Birmingham and Tarrant residents from testing their property for pollutants.
Robinson's daughter has not been charged related to the federal investigation.
EPA superfund list
The Environmental Protection Agency in 2014 proposed adding the area around 35th Avenue North to the priorities list, which would give the EPA broad authority to investigate and clean industrial pollution and require nearby companies to pay for cleanup. The EPA had found high concentrations of lead, arsenic, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) or other chemicals in parts of the North Birmingham, Fairmont, Collegeville, and Harriman Park neighborhoods.
Around the same time, the Birmingham air quality group Gasp asked the EPA to assess the area around ABC Coke in Tarrant, about a mile northeast of the 35th Avenue site. That project would become known as the Pinson Valley Neighborhood Site. The EPA found reason to believe the areas should be examined further and conducted a site inspection, but ultimately decided no further action was warranted at the time.
Those efforts to add the areas to the EPA's priorities list triggered pushback -- from business interests, and from Robinson.
The Business Council of Alabama strongly opposed the effort, especially because the EPA wanted to charge nearby industries for deposits on the polluted ground. So did then-Attorney General Luther Strange, who warned that the state would refuse to fund any of the cleanup if the companies did not pay for it.
Throughout the process, Balch & Bingham represented Drummond and ABC Coke. In August 2014, Balch & Bingham responded to the EPA on behalf of Drummond and ABC Coke, and later sued EPA seeking data the agency used to tie Drummond to the site.
Near the end of 2015, signs began to appear around the area under the name "Get Smart Tarrant," which read "Don't let the EPA fool you," and urged residents to contact a Get Smart Gmail address for more information.
Not long after, in January 2016, an email went out from a "Get Smart Tarrant" email address to concerned citizens urging them not to have their soil tested.
That email bore the name of Amanda Robinson. When asked about the email, she had no comment.
"The EPA is testing the soil to determine whether there are contaminants in the area. If the amount of contaminates that the EPA deems necessary is found, then they will consider the Tarrant area a Superfund Site," the email read. "Get Smart is asking residents not to allow the EPA to test the soil their (sic) property. We are asking this because the residents will still have to pay property taxes, even though they (sic) property will have no value."
And Oliver Robinson resisted, too. In February 2015, he spoke against the designation in the meeting before the Environmental Management Commission.
In his remarks, Robinson repeated the arguments made in the Get Smart emails, that the EPA efforts would destroy property values in these neighborhoods.
The EPA did not add the site to its National Priorities List for its superfund cleanup program.