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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Gov. Robert Bentley's affair with Rebekah Caldwell Mason might start costing Alabama taxpayers big bucks--and a public-corruption trial could be looming

Robert Bentley and Rebekah Caldwell Mason
Is Governor Robert Bentley's extramarital affair with aide Rebekah Caldwell Mason about to start hitting Alabama taxpayers in the pocketbook? Are national press and political organizations about to start paying attention? Is Bentley determined to prove that House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn), by comparison, is a noble public servant? Could Bentley and Mason be heading down the same highway Hubbard is following--the one that leads to "Indictment City"?

The answer to all four questions appears to be yes, and if that holds up, 2016 could find Montgomery awash in even more corruption than usual.

The Bentley/Mason affair, which ended the governor's 50-year marriage to First Lady Dianne Bentley, took on new dimensions recently when State Auditor Jim Zeigler alleged the governor is renovating the state's dilapidated Gulf Coast mansion only because he lost ownership of two personal beach homes in the divorce. From a report at al.com:

Zeigler, who has publicly criticized the governor on numerous policy issues this year, claims the governor is taking advantage of state money to build a personal home after he lost ownership of his personal beach homes in his September divorce.

"The governor now has a personal need for a Gulf place, so only now is he restoring the governor's mansion at the gulf," Zeigler wrote in a statement.

The two-story, 7,500-square-foot gubernatorial mansion in Baldwin County is receiving a face lift – estimated at $1.5 million to $1.8 million – after sitting boarded up since Hurricane Danny in 1997.

Bentley countered by saying funds from the BP oil-spill settlement will be used to cover costs of the renovation, that no taxpayer funds will be used. But didn't the BP funds go into state coffers? Doesn't that mean state dollars are, in fact, being used to renovate the gulf mansion? Couldn't a reasonable citizen say, "This money should be used for a more important purpose"? And isn't the timing of the renovation, coming so soon after Bentley's divorce settlement, more than a little curious?

Such questions are starting to reach beyond the borders of Alabama. James DeVinnie wrote a scorching article at occupydemocrats.com, titled "Alabama Governor Robbed Citizens Of Millions In Oil Spill Money To Rebuild Beachfront Mansion." Ouch, that headline stings--and the story itself does not let up. Writes DeVinnie:

Showing a reckless disregard for the needs of his state’s people in favor of corporate bosses and his own fancy, Alabama’s Republican governor Robert Bentley is renovating an abandoned 7,500 square-foot governor’s mansion with money left over from 2010 BP oil spill settlement. An estimated $1.5 to $1.8 million of grants from the settlement in the Deepwater Horizon spill will be used to cover the costs of refurbishment. Such a blatant pillaging of funds intended to serve the public good for extravagant private use is downright shameful, especially given that the local communities, industry, and environment along Alabama’s Gulf Coast continue to suffer the effects of the enormous oil spill.

The mansion in question, located on the beachfront in Gulf Shores, AL, was built in the era of famed racist governor George Wallace, and served as a secondary governor’s residence until it was damaged by Hurricane Danny in 1997 and subsequently abandoned. Bentley has claimed that his decision to renovate the property has nothing to do with the fact that he recently lost two nearby beachfront properties in a messy divorce. That divorce was the result of widely credible rumors of an affair between Bentley – who hypocritically couches his opposition to abortion and gay marriage as a belief in “family values” – and one of his staffers.

We must quibble with DeVinnie's characterization of the divorce as "the result of widely credible rumors of an affair." In fact, we broke the story of an affair, based on information from multiple knowledgeable sources--and other state news outlets picked up on it. In other words, the story grew from journalism, not rumors.

Other than that, DeVinnie appropriately nails Bentley for what might be called "gross gubernatorial negligence":

The fact that almost two million dollars of funds meant to serve the people of Alabama affected by corporate negligence are instead going to fund more trickle-down extravagance for the elite has justifiably aroused the ire of many Alabamians, especially as it comes on the heels of the state’s dubious decision in 2013 to use BP settlement money meant for environmental cleanup to build an $85 million hotel and conference center on a state beach property.

For example, in October, the state shut down 30 DMV offices, all in rural majority-black areas, and after an enormous backlash agreed to keep them open only one day per year. The NAACP is suing the state for the closures – which were rationalized by Bentley as a response to the budget crisis – arguing that they serve to suppress the votes of blacks by limiting access to state-issued voter ID cards that are necessary to vote in the state following last year’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act. In another move this year, some 15 Alabama state parks are facing closure due to the budget crisis, and lawmakers are considering serious cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, and other social services to shore up Montgomery’s finances.

As for Mike Hubbard, he is facing a 23-count indictment alleging he used his public office for private gain. If Zeigler's allegations are on target, it appears Bentley used public funds for private gain--or at least for personal enjoyment. Is the governor, once seen as a distinguished man of medicine, much different from the money grubbing Hubbard? It doesn't look like it.

Cooper Shattuck
What does the future hold for Bentley--and Mason? The possibilities could be grim. Birmingham attorney Donald Watkins is preparing a report for the U.S. Department of Justice on Bentley's alleged criminal actions while in office. From reading Watkins' posts on his Facebook page, it appears much of the report will focus on the Alabama Council for Excellence in Government (ACEGOV), which former Bentley legal adviser Cooper Shattuck started before leaving in February 2015 to become general counsel for the University of Alabama System.

Here is how we reported on Shattuck and others behind the shadowy ACEGOV:

Shattuck oversees a staff of 21 lawyers who serve the three UA campuses--in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, and Huntsville. Joining him as board members for ACEGOV are R.B. Walker, assistant to the executive vice president at Alabama Power, and Marquita Davis, a former state finance director under Bentley and current executive director of the Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity.

Shattuck helps complete a powerful trifecta--University of Alabama, Alabama Power, Poarch Creeks--that, our sources say, helped funnel money to Rebekah Caldwell Mason. How much did ACEGOV pay Mason, and what services did she perform? Was she paid mainly to stay quiet about her affair with Governor Bentley?

Could the answers to those questions help lead to criminal charges against Mason, Bentley, and perhaps others?

Watkins apparently is thinking along the same lines, and he used the term "slush fund" to help describe ACEGOV:

For over a year, the governor seemed oblivious to the hurt and pain he had caused to Mrs. Bentley and his children by his love affair with Rebekah. Since he was re-elected last year, Bentley’s primary concern has been figuring out how best to use the financial resources of the state, along with leftover campaign funds and the financial resources of friendly political groups, to support his romantic lifestyle with Rebekah.

In February, Governor Bentley established the Alabama Council for Excellent Government, a 501(c)(4) non-profit corporation. Bentley’s former legal advisor Cooper Shattuck formed the Council at Bentley’s request. The stated purpose of the organization is to “support Governor Bentley in his efforts to solve real problems and to make Alabama greater, stronger and more excellent for all the hardworking men and women who call this great state our home.” In reality, the Council is a slush fund that was set up to (a) fund Bentley’s love affair with Rebekah while concealing payments to her from the view of public oversight and accountability, and (b) stash money for life with Rebekah after the governor’s divorce from Mrs. Bentley.

Bentley funded the Council with excess campaign funds left over from his 2014 gubernatorial campaign. The Council has also received a $25,000 contribution this year from AEA and $20,000 from the Alabama Hospital Association.

If federal investigators wind up on Bentley's trail, they will have plenty of rocks to look under. The governor's actions with the Gulf Coast mansion might provide just one more slimy rock.


Anonymous said...

Bentley's lost his mind.

Anonymous said...

Bentley is starting to make Bob Riley look good. Geez, I didn't think that could be done.

Anonymous said...

Serve Alabama, The Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Volunteer Service ... Jon Mason, Director ... Email: jon.mason@servealabama.gov


Anonymous said...

Rob Bentley classic "good ole boy" same ole song and dance. How will Obama DOJ react? We know the state won't do a damn thing. After the whitewash of the Siegelman/Scrushy prosecution they'll likely write this off. That pretense may have only been the beginning. Ive heard some say the electoral votes aren't worth the trouble. I mean how many governors can go to jail within a short period of time.is important we have faith in our government and such. What would that result in? A different version of the truth bought by the public and the press.

Obama DOJ is so weak.

Shucks said...

I can see why Gov. Bentley finds Ms. Mason attractive. Heck, I find her attractive. But is it really worth throwing away your life, your marriage, your reputation?

Robby Scott Hill said...

It may cost the taxpayer because he'll get something you never got, a trial by jury. If you go look at the history of the American Revolution, there were many attempts to sue & prosecute the Founding Fathers for libel, among other torts & crimes. Most of the attempts failed because even in His Majesty King George's Courts, a jury was required. Alabama is the legal sewer where you will have bad things done to you without a jury & in the case of Don Siegelman & others you will have bad things done to you with a jury because of erroneous & misleading instructions from the bench.

legalschnauzer said...

All excellent points, Rob. I wish you could teach a course for Alabamians on the way our justice system really works. And once you are done enlightening the folks in Alabama, I wish you could go on a nationwide tour, sort of like Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and the boys. Maybe I could be your tour promoter and help you sell out stadiums.

This subject is of profound importance, but I've yet to hear a presidential candidate come close to addressing it.

e.a.f. said...

Now that is certainly the Alabama we all know and not so love. I'm sure there are other governors going, than heavens for Bentley. At least we can say we're not as bad as he is.

if there was any extra money left over, and when has that happened in a state government, you'd think they'd put it in general revenue to re-open parks or to contribute to food banks.

this guy really must think the state owes him a living. Having seen the pictures of the gov. I can only conclude its the money which attracted his lover.

as to what will happen, in the long term. Most likely nothing. The U.S.A. is headed to a federal election and all else pales in comparison. This will get lost in the shuffle of an election and the state itself, well given who the voters have elected in recent history, they'll most likely re=elect him and his again.

Its hard to believe this country tries to preach to the rest of the world about right and wrong.

Joan Mckinney said...

I do not care for Bentley but I have a hard time excepting an article that says sources. If you have correct information put it out there.

Anonymous said...

Bentley supporter's say they will not vote for Monica Lewinski's ex-boyfriend's wife but they still support him, Hypocrisy or just typical duped southern voters?

Anonymous said...

There will never be a criminal element to renovation of a publicly owned domicile for the government. The perquisite of residence - only possibly gained during this governors term of office - ultimately accrues to the taxpayers. And the government has an obligation to preserve assets and preserve history of the state where possible and reasonable. Perhaps there are questions of whether renovation is cost-effective, but allowing the property to lay fallow and decaying is not necessarily good management, either.

It's not clear the governor will enjoy personal benefits of residence there, but even if so, so those benefits are time limited and ultimately the benefit is to the state.

James Kirk said...

Anyone that doesn't like politics in Alabama has the option of moving to Detroit. It would be in the states best interest if many of the people in the state would move !

legalschnauzer said...

Points well taken, @8:58. On the criminal front, my guess is that Bentley's biggest danger comes from ACEGOV.

legalschnauzer said...

James K -- I have a different proposal. If the people of Alabama (and their leaders/judges, etc.) don't believe in rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution (due process, equal protection, and such), then the state needs to leave the union. Why stay in country if you don't believe in the rights spelled out in its constitution?

legalschnauzer said...

The Bentley/beach mansion story is making it to national and international circles. Here is report from RT (Russia Today):


Joann said...

Bentley must be channeling "Big Jim" Folsom.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, like maybe most of the politicians?

Anonymous said...

Bentley looks like Ichabod Crane with the libido of Ron Jeremy. Certainly a good Christian by Alabama standards. Arguably the worst modern governor out of a state that produces little else but winning football, dumb kids and crooked politicians.

Anonymous said...

I personally worked in his medical office for 9 years and to say this is a shock would be an understatement. I just never expected he would hurt his family to this extent.Deplorable.

legalschnauzer said...

Wow, what a great comment, @6:02. One of the funniest and most insightful comments in the history of LS. I'm still laughing--and thinking at the same time--and that's unusual for me. Will be a while before the Ichabod Crane and Ron Jeremy juxtaposition leaves my mind.

Many thanks.

Unknown said...

She is compensated 10k a week by the lobbyist committee for which she works.

Phil Stafford said...

She is beautiful. What man wouldn't want to get to know her better ?@

legalschnauzer said...

Good one, Phil. Maybe Bentley would have been better off getting to know Ms. Mason better without trying to get to know her in "the Biblical sense." Perhaps Bentley would have been wise to consider the feelings of that person he had at home--the wife, known to some as "the old ball and chain."

legalschnauzer said...

Unknown: Can you provide any more details? Sounds like you are talking $40,000 a month and (if my math's correct) $480,000 a year. That is serious dinero. What exactly is the lobbyist committee that pays that kind of dough?

Anonymous said...

Riley's ship, with a low metacentric height, had a "soft" roll, but Bentley's inexperienced shipbuilders used a high metacentric height, resulting in a "stiff" roll.

Bentley's staffers, reflecting upon the lack of respect Bentley recieved from the legislature, appointed a member to give Bentley something to help with discipline. This staff member approached Bentley saying, "Governor, I have a little something to help you administer discipline on your boat. It's a cat o' nine tails, also known as the captain's daughter, with knotted thongs."

The staffer thought she was being clever and Bentley did notice her cleverage.

His mind began to race, and thus began the beginning of the end of a fifty-year marriage.

With its high metacentric height and the cat on board, Murphy dubbed the USS Bentley, the love boat.

Murphy was rewarded, with a game of fetch, with John and Thomas Yancey.

Robby Scott Hill said...

"The Chancellor - the late Chancellor - was only partly correct. He was obsolete, but so was the State, the entity that he worshiped. Any state, any entity, any ideology that fails to recognize the worth, the dignity, the rights of man, that state is obsolete. A case to be filed under 'M' for mankind in the Twilight Zone."

Anonymous said...

I think your math is a bit off. $10,000 a week is $520,000 a year.

e.a.f. said...

$10K a week? she sure better be worth it. $10K a week, I thought only football players and politicians got paid that kind of money in Alabama. Wow?! Now who are the fools who put up that kind of money and what does she know to earn that kind of money.

legalschnauzer said...

Yes, my math quite often is suspect. Thanks for the correction, @10:21.

Anonymous said...

Jerry Sandusky was framed!!!! Free Jerry Sandusky!