State Rep. Sue Schmitz (D-Toney) was indicted today in federal court and accused of receiving $177,000 for work she did not perform. Schmitz, a former high-school government teacher, is accused of fraud in a nine-count indictment announced by U.S. Attorney Alice Martin in Birmingham.
What is going on here? Is this part of a noble federal effort to clean up Alabama's two-year college system? Is it part of a plan to help Republicans take over the state legislature by 2010? Is it a bit of both?
Given what we've learned about the highly partisan nature of U.S. Attorney offices in Alabama--remember it was Martin who first went after former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman--one must wonder about the motivations behind this investigation.
I particularly wonder because I have first-hand experience with Alice Martin's approach to handling allegations of wrongdoing by Republican public officials. I sent her reams of information about federal crimes (honest-services mail fraud, conspiracy) I had witnessed by Republican judges in Alabama state courts.
Martin assured me that if I sent her detailed information, she would send it to the appropriate investigative agency. When I did just that, what did she do with the information? She sent it to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which does not even have jurisdiction to investigate the primary alleged crime--honest-services mail fraud under 18 U.S. Code 1346.
In other words, Alice Martin sent my allegations of Republican wrongdoing off to an obscure place where they could quietly die. Doesn't sound like she took that approach to allegations of wrongdoing by Rep. Schmitz. Wonder why.
And that makes me think all of this is another example of the Bush Justice Department playing politics with our courts.
I know very little about Rep. Schmitz and her work as an educator and a legislator. I have read this unflattering portrayal of her in The Birmingham News. But I also have first-hand experience with the News' partisan coverage of justice-related matters. I've notified more than a half dozen editors and reporters at the paper about the wrongdoing I've witnessed in Alabama courts, and they've all ignored it.
So excuse me if I don't take the News as the last word on Rep. Schmitz' integrity.
Based on what we know at this point, the two-year colleges story does not look good for Democrats in Alabama. It looked particularly bad last week when former Chancellor Roy Johnson pled guilty to various corruption charges and agreed to cooperate with the government's investigation.
Upon learning that, you knew more bad news was coming for Democrats. And it came today with the Schmitz story, one day after the high of James Fields' historic special-election victory for a legislative seat representing Cullman County.
As I try to digest the two-year colleges story, I can't help but balance it with what we've learned over the past six to eight months about the behavior of the Bush Justice Department in the Siegelman case.
And I can't help but ask this question: Is Sue Schmitz really a crook or is she just the latest victim of a politically motivated prosecution in Alabama?
I don't know the answer to that question. But I do know this: Alice Martin will definitely play politics with her office. When she ran for public office in 2000, her campaign manager was Dax Swatek, who later would serve as manager of Bob Riley's campaign for governor in 2006. Now Riley is leading a fundraising effort to help Republicans gain control of the state legislature in 2010. And having Sue Schmitz in federal prison would be a nice step toward achieving that goal.
Is Alice Martin playing politics with the Schmitz case? I don't know. But there is no doubt that she is suppressing an investigation of wrongdoing by Republican judges in Alabama state courts, and I've got the conclusive evidence to prove it.
We will be reporting that story in the weeks ahead. We also will be following the Schmitz case with great interest.