Ethics Commission recommends charges

Published 12:02 am Thursday, April 6, 2017

Finds evidence that governor broke ethics, campaign laws

After spending more than nine hours behind closed doors Wednesday, the Alabama Ethics Commission yesterday recommended that Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley be prosecuted for four separate ethics violations, three of which were violations of Alabama’s Fair Campaign Practices Act.

The cases were referred to the Montgomery County District Attorney for further consideration and possible prosecution. All four are Class B felonies, punishable by between two and 20 years per violation, and a fine of up to $20,000 per violation.

Specifically, the commission recommended charges against Bentley for using public resources to further personal interests, a violation of the Alabama Ethics Act; and receiving campaign funds outside of the allowable window for contributions and using legal fees improperly, both violations of the Alabama Fair Campaign Practices Act.

Under state law, the Alabama Ethics Commission acts as a grand jury when a public official faces accusations of breaking the state’s ethics law. The commission cannot press charges, but can find probable cause and refer cases to the Alabama attorney general or a district attorney

Bentley’s attorney, Bill Athanas, told reporters after the Ethics Commission vote, “This was a finding of probable cause, not a finding of violation. The matter will be referred to the district attorney, and we look forward to having a conversation with her about these issues.”

Ethics Commission Director Tom Albritton, a native of Andalusia, issued a statement following the vote.

“Over the course of this year-long investigation, the Alabama Ethics Commission issued more subpoenas than have been issued by the Commission since it was given subpoena power. Chief Special Agent Tony Goubil and Special Agent Dustin Lansford devoted countless hours in conducting the investigation.”

He said they interviewed more than 45 witnesses and analyzed more than 33,000 documents in the course of their investigation. The evidence was tested and retested by career attorneys Hugh Evans, general counsel, and Cynthia Propst Raulston, assistant general counsel, before being presented to the commission, Albritton said.

The Ethics Commission’s investigation began in March 2016 when State Auditor Jim Zeigler filed a complaint against Bentley, alleging that Bentley misused state resources for personal benefit to carry out an affair with an advisor, Rebekah Mason.

The House Judiciary Committee, which is handling impeachment proceedings against Bentley, is expected to receive a report from its special counsel this Friday, and begin hearings next week. Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, chairs the Judiciary Committee.

The Attorney General’s office also is investigating Bentley.