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Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Siegelman/Schnauzer Connection: Sniffing the Trail of a GOP (and UAB) Money Man

Many folks probably cling to the notion that higher education is driven by noble pursuits such as teaching, learning, and research.

But anyone who has spent much time in higher ed knows the field is driven by the same factors that drive most other American institutions--power, politics, and money. Not necessarily in that order.

The tale of my unlawful termination at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB)--much like the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman--is driven by power, politics, and money. Let's examine those three factors as they relate to my termination--and you will notice names, and industries, that are familiar from the Siegelman case.

Our examination will center on Birmingham businessman William Cobb "Chip" Hazelrig. We have identified Hazelrig as a "person of interest" in my termination partly because of money--he gave UAB $5 million, the largest individual donation in university history. That kind of cash will buy a lot of clout on any college campus.

We already have chronicled some of Hazelrig's financial and legal entanglements. But now, we will look at Hazelrig's connections to power and politics. Again, we encourage you to be alert for names that are familiar from the Don Siegelman case:

The Bob Riley Connection
In 2002, Hazelrig gave $10,000 to Bob Riley's campaign for governor of Alabama. That was the campaign that ended with Riley "defeating" Siegelman when votes mysteriously disappeared into the good night in heavily Republican Baldwin County.

Riley soon returned the contribution to Hazelrig. Why?

The Gambling Connection
Word leaked to the press that Hazelrig had ties to the gaming industry--and we all know that Bob Riley is opposed to all forms of gambling (even though Jack Abramoff funneled $13 million of Mississippi Choctaw gambling money to Riley's '02 campaign).

Riley evidently got a case of the vapors when he "discovered" that Hazelrig is a stockholder in Paragon Gaming, a Las Vegas-based outfit that was formed in 2000 to help Indian tribes develop casino gambling on their reservations.

Given Riley's clear ties to Abramoff, I wonder why Hazelrig thought his Indian gaming interests would be served by making a hefty donation to Riley? Hmmm.

In an interview with the Anniston Star, Hazelrig described his interest in Paragon Gaming as a "side investment" and "totally passive," estimating that he owned about a five-percent stake in the company.

But that doesn't square with reporting from the Decatur Daily, which broke the Hazelrig story. (Those stories are not available online.) The Daily reported that Hazelrig was one of four founders of Paragon Gaming.

Here's something else that doesn't square: Bob Riley tried to distance himself from Hazelrig and claimed the businessman's ties to gambling were a "complete surprise."

But Hazelrig said Riley had called him, asking for a donation. And the Riley family clearly knew about Hazelrig's background. How do we know that?

The Rob Riley Connection
Folks who follow the Siegelman story are quite familiar with Rob Riley, a Birmingham attorney who is the governor's son.

In sworn testimony before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, Alabama attorney and whistleblower Jill Simpson stated that Rob Riley told her his father and GOP political operative Bill Canary had enlisted the help of White House strategist Karl Rove in initiating a criminal prosecution of Siegelman.

Riley has tried, without much success, to discredit Simpson ever since. And he remains up to his neck in the Siegelman affair.

Rob Riley also has been up to his neck in the gambling industry, thanks partly to his ties to Chip Hazelrig. Why is that?

The Tuscaloosa Connection
UAB is based in Birmingham, but it is part of the University of Alabama System, which is run by the UA Board of Trustees and based in Tuscaloosa. I've stated several times on this blog that my termination almost certainly was executed with pressure from, or approval of, someone in the UA System or the Board of Trustees.

In other words, the roots of my unlawful firing are probably in Tuscaloosa. So I was more than a little interested to discover that Chip Hazelrig--and Rob Riley--have ties to a curious company in T-town.

It's called Crimsonica, and it's run by a UA grad named Robert Sigler. Evidently Sigler's devotion to UA is so great that he named his company after the university's mascot, the Crimson Tide.

We noted earlier that Chip Hazelrig was one of the four founders of Paragon Gaming. But the principal founder was Robert Sigler. And who was a Crimsonica attorney and board member? Why, none other than Rob Riley.

The Decatur Daily unearthed that little nugget from checking the Crimsonica Web site. Interestingly, the Web site has since become password protected, and Rob Riley's name has been removed from Crimsonica documents filed with the Alabama Secretary of State's Office.

He was a registered agent of Crimsonica until May 5, 2005.

Rob Riley told the Decatur Daily that he was not involved with "people in the gambling industry." But public records tell a different story.

And Robert Sigler has big ambitions when it comes to gambling. An article dated February 19, 2005, says Sigler was head of Global Trust Partners, an outfit that was trying to initiate a national lottery in Russia.

That activity was going on while Rob Riley was affiliated with Sigler's company--and while Bob Riley was residing in the governor's mansion.

So the Rileys fight a lottery in Alabama, the one Don Siegelman supported, but they have connections to a lottery in Russia? Hmmm.

Are we done with Chip Hazelrig and his connections that touch on UAB, Republican Party politics, and gambling? Oh no, there's more to come.

But let's take a breather for now.

(To be continued)


Anonymous said...

I'm the anonymous poster that posted on your last Hazelrig post. I know that he has multiple connections to the Republican party, you've detailed those before.

There are tons of good reasons to give to a local university such as UAB--maybe someone in his family died of cancer or a disease that UAB does research on, maybe he's hired good people from UAB. Maybe he wanted good publicity. Maybe it's a tax write-off.

But it seems like a stretch to me to suggest that he would use his $5 million worth of clout to go out on a limb and attack a total stranger, a blogger, for the benefit of some business/political partners, who probably weren't all that affected by the things you've blogged about.

So I guess what my question is--do you have any evidence other than circumstantial?

legalschnauzer said...

Interesting comment. You seem like a pretty thoughtful person, so I'm sure you will understand that I can't make much of a reply to an anonymous comment. If you care to identify yourself, either here or in a private e-mail to me (address is on front page of blog), I would be glad to respond further.


Anonymous said...

I'd rather not, but I'll try and make it clear that I have no agenda, other than my own curiosity. And I'll say I've been reading your blog for a while, know your story and do think the circumstances of your dismissal from UAB were odd.

Chip Hazelrig's name caught my eye because I was a fried of his son in college (half a decade ago) before we grew apart. I haven't seen or talked to Chip's son in maybe 5 years. Chip's son is a good, sane, overly kind person (though that judgment may be influenced by the fact that he was maybe the first person I'd ever met that was actually a millionaire--I'm from the black belt and I assumed until college that millionaires only lived in Hollywood and on Park Ave--and so I was impressed that he is actually a real person), but I never met Chip and could not begin to make the same judgments about him. But it's clear that he enjoys fast cars and strong drink, which "don't mix" as the bus billboards say.

I'm just very skeptical and curious at the same time, and so felt compelled to push you to reveal more.

legalschnauzer said...

No problem. I don't have an agenda either--other than trying to shine light on our broken justice system, which caused me to start this blog in the first place. Also, I intend to hold the proper person or persons accountable for cheating me out of my job at UAB. I suspect you, or anyone else in similar circumstances, would do the same thing.

I've referred to Chip as a "person of interest" because that's what he is to me. He has clout with the people at UAB who fired me and has political and financial ties to the external people who had reason to want to shut me up. And I have extensive evidence that my termination was driven by someone external to UAB, someone who felt my blog was stepping on their political toes.

I've never said that person is Chip Hazelrig. I've said Chip is a person of interest to me because of his ties to key people both inside and outside of UAB.

By the way, Chip has e-mailed me, and I plan to respond. I'm not aware of him trying to call me, but maybe I need to check my voice messages.

I haven't responded yet because I've filed an EEOC complaint against UAB, which is a precursor to a lawsuit. Because I've initiated legal action against UAB, I need to be careful about discussions with anyone associated with the university. I'm seeking counsel on that issue now.

If you consider my posts regarding Chip, or anyone else, to be a stretch, that's fine. And you are certainly free to consider any evidence I present here as circumstantial. I've never put a tag on it one way or another. It's all from public sources, and it's all 100 percent factual.

As I noted in my most recent post, I'm not finished writing on this subject, and I'm still researching on a number of fronts that go way beyond Chip.

UAB has given every indication that this situation will not be resolved short of court, and that's where the discovery process should yield hard evidence about what happened in my employment case. I suspect it also will yield a lot of information about how politics and "justice" are conducted these days in Alabama.

I will say you are off base on one statement. Someone (or several someones) definitely was worked up about my blog. I've got the threatening anonymous e-mails and comments to prove it. The fact that GOP officials in Shelby County threatened to seize our cars and home is another indicator.

People hear the term "blog" and think of something fluffy. Why would anyone be worked up about a blog? But what I do is, to a great extent, citizen journalism. And people definitely get worked up about that.

I'm not alone. Many citizen journalist/bloggers get all kinds of threats. That's most likely to occur when your posts are truthful and on target, which mine are.

If my posts were filled with rubbish, no one would have bothered trying to cost me my job.

HSBling said...

While I appreciate you somewhat responding to my post a few days ago, I do not understand why you post some of the comments but did not post mine to your blog. I have recently read that you are following other leads for your "unlawful termination" but the fact that you still are trying to smear someone's name and air their dirty laundry for everyone to read still shows that you are just eaten up with complete bitterness. I do understand that you are entitled to post "circumstantial evidence" on your blog- but you have made some pretty harsh accusations against someone that was trying to do a remarkable thing for our community, UAB (which no matter what they did to you- it is still an amazing establishment), and for everyone that has ever been touched by the dreadful disease of cancer. I think it is disgraceful that you would put down such a man and say that he is trying to keep their trauma units full for a financial gain. He may have ties to gambling, have a bad driving record, and be divorced- but a man that would give money in honor of his parents to help fight cancer does not need to be bashed for your mere pleasure and whatever agenda that you have towards UAB. Then to publish something on the internet about his divorce that you clearly know nothing about- what is that? Every women that I know that has been in a divorce settlement that involved a lot of money has wanted it sealed so that the public does not know how much money was dispersed. Duh, someone that is not wealthy can request this too, but it is usually not worth their time. A sealed divorced in no way means it was "nasty" or "juicy". The fact that they settled without attorneys speaks volumes to me. No divorce is pleasant, but to try to say that it was out of the ordinary is absurd. After you talk to your attorneys, maybe you should try to know this guy and realize that everyone that has ever told me anything about him has talked about how genuine he is- yes not with out fault, but who are we to judge? I have even heard that his ex-wife has great things to say about him. Maybe I don't understand "blogging"- but I do not think that trying to expose someone's faults that has done nothing to you is nice at all. I do wish you the best with trying to find out who had you fired and do truly feel for you that after 19 years that you are without a job- but maybe try reverting some of your negative energy into something positive. Try recognizing the good in people instead of focusing on the bad and your life will be so much fuller- I promise! Best of Luck!

legalschnauzer said...

To HSBling:
I don't recall receiving a comment from someone going by this name.

An "anonymous" person has commented, and you can see them posted here. I might have rejected one anonymous comment because I just didn't think it had much to say.

I've contacted Mr. Hazelrig and said that I am willing to speak with him at some point, although the matter is complicated by the fact I have initiated a legal action against UAB. I invited him to stay in touch with me.

I also invited him to send me a written response to matters I've addressed on this blog, and I would publish it.

You and I may continue to disagree, but the actions of someone who gave a huge gift to a major university, and will have his family name on that building, are newsworthy. His connections to Republican Party activists who almost certainly are behind (or have knowledge about) my termination are also newsworthy. Doesn't mean Mr. Hazelrig himself is involved with my termination--and I haven't said that he is--but I believe the public has a right to know about the political connections of a donor who has major clout at a public university.

It's not so much a matter of blogging as a matter of journalism. I've got 30 years of experience in journalism, and these matters are ripe for public scrutiny--regardless of my employment situation.

UAB's leadership has taken a number of questionable actions recently, and I will be reporting on those. Our taxpayer dollars support the institution, and it is violating federal law right and left.

As I told Mr. Hazelrig in my e-mail to him, he of all people should be concerned about that. UAB's actions raise questions about whether it will be a good steward of his money.