LEVITICUS: Why did Mitchell resign and Rhegness retire if they wanted to fight corruptions, should have stayed and fought.
Citizens take biblical name for group targeting corruption.
Birmingham – A group of men have taken a page from the Bible, forming the watchdog group to investigate tips about corruption in Alabama government.
The nonprofit Leviticus Group, formed in February, will pass along its finding to the media or law enforcement agencies.
“We want folks to do right, that’s all we ask,” said Gene Mitchell, a former director of the Department of Public Safety and one of the founders of Leviticus.
They got their name from Leviticus, one of the five books of the Bible attributed to Moses. Leviticus 19:11 reads, “Ye shall not steal, neither deal falsely, neither lie one to another.”
So far the board consists of Mitchell, retired Alabama Bureau of Investigation agent Bill Rhegness and Autaugaville businessman William Bellungrath.
“What we intend to do is keep an eye on the fox and keep an eye on the financial mischief involving tax dollars,” Rhegness said. “It’s the public’s money and we believe they have an inherent right to know how it’s spent.”
The Leviticus board will decide which tips to investigate, Rhegness said. Any findings that indicate criminal wrongdoing will be turned over to the appropriate law enforcement agency. The group will notify the media or file a civil lawsuit if it finds something that isn’t criminal but appears unethical.
Mitchell and Rhegness said many state troopers and citizens brought them complaints about large scale fixing of traffic tickets in the fall of 1999. Mitchell said he found stacks of copied tickets on his doorstep.
He and Rhegness approached Siegelman administrations officials but gave the information to reporters when the activity didn’t stop, Mitchell said.
The scandal led Siegelman to fire his director of public safety and temporarily suspend three staffers.
Jim DeBardelaben, a Montgomery lawyer who is the group’s legal counsel, said Leviticus will give public employees a place to anonymously report problems with fear of retribution. Members say the group will check out tips from city, county and state government, and for any amount of misspending.
“Dimes quickly become dollars,” Rhegness said.
Two state officials involved in investigating corruption welcomed the watchdog group’s efforts.
“I always welcome individuals who have an interest in promoting honest government and assisting law enforcement agencies in rooting out public corruption,” Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor said.
“As long as we just remember the old principle that you’re innocent until proven guilty,” he added.
Jim Summer, director of the Alabama Ethics Commission, said his only concern is that the group be responsible and take its findings over to the proper authorities.
“But I think we all would welcome anybody who would look at these things and point them out,” he said.
Leviticus is looking for donations to fund its investigations, though Rhegness said it won’t accept money from candidates or political parties. He and Mitchell believe they need about $300.000.00 to move operations out of their homes into offices in Montgomery and north Alabama.