Ana Franklin, the embattled Morgan County sheriff, today agreed to plead guilty to a federal misdemeanor tax charge.
Franklin, 54, was charged with willful failure to file a tax return in federal court for the Northern District of Alabama, court records show. Franklin is expected to formally enter a guilty plea at arraignment on Jan. 10, 2019, according to the Department of Justice. Today she signed a plea agreement with federal prosecutors.
The sheriff failed to file a 2015 tax return with the Internal Revenue Service, according to the plea agreement.
Defense attorney William Gray said Franklin filed the tax return by the end of 2016. But it was due by April 15, 2016.
“It was late,” Gray said. “She paid all the interest, penalties, taxes and everything that was due.”
Franklin faces up to a year in prison and a fine up to $100,000. Prosecutors will recommend “that the defendant be awarded an appropriate reduction in offense level for acceptance of responsibility,” court records state. Prosecutors said they are leaving it up to the judge whether Franklin should serve prison time or be allowed to serve her sentence on house arrest or probation.
“We expect all of our citizens, to include and especially our public officials, to promptly and accurately file their tax returns,” U.S. Attorney Jay Town said in a statement. “The Department of Justice will continue to federally charge those who fail to do so. We appreciate the investigative work of IRS-CID and the FBI Birmingham Division.”In a text message toAL.com, Franklin declined comment.
Gray said Franklin is expected to complete her term as sheriff.
Franklin’s successor, Hartselle police Chief Ron Puckett, will take office Jan. 15. Franklin did not seek a third term during this year’s election.
My statement on today's late breaking news regarding the Morgan County Sheriff:
"I, like most in Morgan County, am disappointed by the news. However, my team has been and will continue to be focused on the future. As our transition plans continue, I'm confident our best days are ahead of us."During her two terms, Franklin has been the subject of numerous investigations and lawsuits. A federal judge last year found Franklinin contempt of courtfor loaning $150,000 of the local jail’s inmate feeding funds to a crooked used car lot.
The food money loan was first exposed by the sheriff’s nemesis, blogger Glenda Lockhart, on the Morgan County Whistleblower website.
For years, Lockhart has used her blog to accuse the sheriff and her office of wrongdoing and illegal activity. Lockhart has also filed multiple lawsuits against the sheriff.
Earlier this year, Morgan County Circuit Judge Glenn Thompson ruled that Franklin, along with deputies Blake Robinson, Robert “Bones” Wilson and Justin “JP” Powell, acted criminally during an investigation into fired jail warden Leon Bradley and Lockhart. The judge in April dismissed a misdemeanor case against Bradley, who had been arrested by the sheriff’s office and accused of leaking information to Lockhart. After hearing testimony from 11 witnesses during a two-day hearing, Thompson wrote in a scathing order that the sheriff’s office provided a keylogger to a confidential informant — Lockhart’s grandson Daniel — who "unlawfully" installed it on Lockhart’s computer. A keylogger is a spy software that records keystrokes and allows for the capture of a person’s computer activity and passwords. The sheriff and deputies have forcefully denied any wrongdoing or illegal activity.
Lockhart is suing Franklin and the deputies, alleging they bribed her grandson to illegally gather information for search warrants. Bradley also filed a lawsuit against the sheriff and deputies.
Franklin argued she was immune from Lockhart’s civil claims under state law. U.S. District Judge Madeline Haikala disagreed in a ruling last week. The judge said Lockhart’s lawsuit can proceed because Franklin’s legal immunity doesn’t protect her from claims of bribery, intimidation and other misconduct meant to silence a private citizen, according to the Associated Press.
Franklin has filed a counterclaim against Lockhart, alleging defamation, invasion of privacy, trespassing, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and fraud and deceit. The counterclaim accuses Lockhart of intentionally and knowingly publishing false information about the sheriff and deputies. Lockhart has denied the charges. Lockhart began blogging about Franklin after being arrested by the sheriff's office in 2011 on a charge of obstructing government operations. Also arrested was Lockhart's husband, Hal. The charges ultimately were dismissed, but the Lockharts sued the sheriff for unlawful arrest. The lawsuit was settled privately, and Lockhart has toldAL.comshe can't discuss details of the settlement.
The sheriff's office was called to help when the Lockharts' son, who was mentally ill, gained possession of a gun, according to testimony given in a deposition. The call was made from the son's home on the family property in Falkville, but deputies responded to the Lockhart home, which is located at a different address on the property.
Lockhart said deputies spent hours at her home, searching the house, property and a garage — instead of assisting with the call at her son’s home. The couple was arrested because they asked deputies not to continue searching the home without a warrant, Lockhart said.
In the federal tax crime case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert O. Posey is prosecuting. In January, Franklin is to appear for arraignment at the Hugo L. Black U.S. Courthouse, in Birmingham.
Updated at 8:06 p.m. to include a statement from sheriff-elect Ron Puckett, who will replace Franklin next month.