UAB President Carol Garrison pulled a surprise last week when she announced her resignation on the second day of fall classes. Perhaps now is an appropriate time to ask this question: Did Garrison lead an ethically challenge administration, in part, because of her ties to the banking community?
Since the financial collapse of 2007-08, Americans have been living in what might be called "The Age of the Sleazy Banker." Financial titans who once were seen as community pillars now are drawing enhanced scrutiny. That goes double for a banker who is married to the president of perhaps the single most important public institution in Alabama. What kind of ethics does he have, and how might they affect his spouse who is entrusted with managing millions of state and federal tax dollars?
That question should be asked about Julian Banton, the former president and CEO of SouthTrust Bank and now the husband of Carol Garrison. We are not sure Banton has earned the title "sleazy banker," but he does have some associations that are questionable, perhaps even unsavory. And it certainly is reasonable to ask: Was Carol Garrison's marriage to a retired banker a positive or a negative during her tenure as head of UAB? Is it possible that someone uncovered dirt on her banker husband, and that's why she was told to kindly exit, stage left? I think the jury is very much out on those questions.
In fact, our research raises a couple of even more pointed questions:
(1) Does Julian Banton have ties to drug trafficking?
(2) Did Julian Banton have something to do with my unlawful termination at UAB?
The cautious reader, one familiar with Mr. Banton's reputation as an upstanding guy, might say, "Schnauzer, you've lost it. Surely you can't be asking these questions about a long-time, respected member of the Birmingham business community." My response? Don't call me Shirley, and let's look at some facts:
* Julian Banton and drug trafficking--It's undisputed that Wachovia Bank, before it was purchased by Wells Fargo in 2008, was involved in money laundering for international drug traffickers. In fact, bank officials admitted that they had helped move $378.4 billion for Mexican drug cartels and wound up paying $160 million in fines and penalties. The settlement was announced in March 2010, and by that time, many Birmingham residents probably had forgotten a few pertinent facts about our once-proud banking community.
Wachovia had a major presence here, and that's because it merged with Birmingham-based SouthTrust in 2004. Until the merger, SouthTrust was known as one of Birmingham's "Big Four" banks, a quartet that helped make the city one of the top 10 banking centers in the United States.
The SouthTrust/Wachovia marriage did not go so well, to put it mildly. Wachovia made a number of ill-advised acquisitions and took on so many risky loans that it was on the verge of failure before the Wells Fargo purchase. In fact, Wachovia's slipshod practices played a supporting role in the U.S. financial crisis that started in 2007.
Who helped make the SouthTrust/Wachovia marriage happen, costing Birmingham a significant number of banking jobs and exposing the city to a reckless financial culture? Julian Banton was one of the top two executives at SouthTrust, along with Wallace Malone, so he almost certainly played a major hand in it. Banton retired from SouthTrust in 2003, but it appears one of his last acts was to help set the Wachovia merger in motion.
Did Julian Banton know SouthTrust was jumping in bed with a bunch of banking bandits, the sort who would go on to engage in risky lending and money laundering? Is it possible that SouthTrust itself engaged in shady activities before the merger? After all, SouthTrust expanded rapidly in Florida under Banton's guidance, and the Sunshine State wound up being home to huge numbers of underwater mortgages.
At the very least, it appears Banton and his SouthTrust colleagues failed to conduct the kind of due diligence that might have prevented an ill-fated partnership with Wachovia. That raises serious questions about his judgment.
* Julian Banton and my unlawful termination at UAB--As I've written numerous times, evidence shows I was fired at UAB because of my reporting on this blog about the prosecution of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman. I know because a UAB human-resources official named Anita Bonasera told me that in a tape-recorded phone conversation.
Based on Bonasera's words, it seems clear I was fired because someone in conservative circles thought my reporting reflected poorly on Siegelman's successor, Republican Bob Riley. And we know from numerous published reports that the No. 1 pro-Riley law firm in the state was Birmingham-based Bradley Arant. In fact, it has been widely reported that Bradley Arant sucked up more than $10 million of taxpayer funds in the final two years of the Riley regime. And the firm just happens to employ Rob Campbell, the former governor's son-in-law.
Guess who else has a cozy relationship with Bradley Arant? Why, it's none other than Julian Banton. Consider these nuggets about the ties between SouthTrust/Wachovia/Wells Fargo and Bradley Arant:
* Bradley Arant advises SouthTrust regarding liability coverage;
* Bradley Arant represents SouthTrust in its $14.3 billion sale to Wachovia;
* Bradley Arant represents Wachovia in the sale of bank branches.
Banton's ties to Bradley Arant do not end with the banking world. Banton serves on the board of Birmingham-based Energen Corporation, and that firm has extensive legal and lobbying ties to Bradley Arant.
Bradley Arant is not a questionable outfit just because of its ties to the Riley administration and corporate fat cats. It represents Campus Crest Communities CEO Ted Rollins, who is one of the shadiest characters I've encountered during my time writing Legal Schnauzer. In addition to his questionable business practices, Rollins has a history as a documented child abuser--based on his conviction for an assault on his 16-year-old stepson in 1995. To top it off, I have little doubt that Bradley Arant helped Rollins pull off an enormous legal scam in the Rollins v. Rollins divorce case, which I've called the worst courtroom cheat job I've seen in the civil arena.
As for my termination, evidence strongly suggests that I was fired because of pressure from conservative forces in the legal and political communities. And the chances are strong that at least some of that pressure came from someone with ties to Bradley Arant.
Could that someone have been Julian Banton?
Well, we know that Carol Garrison signed off on my firing even though her own grievance committee found I should not have been terminated--and evidence at my grievance hearing showed I did nothing to even merit discipline, much less termination. UAB's own "expert witness," an IT guy named Sean Maher, testified that I never typed a single keystroke on my blog while on university time or resources.
So why would a university president sign off on a termination that was at odds with the facts, institutional policy, federal law, and the recommendation of her own committee?
Perhaps her husband told her to do it. If Carol Garrison listened to that kind of advice, it might help explain why she's on her way out the door at UAB.