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)