Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bush Influence Lives On In the U.S. Department of Justice

Is the George W. Bush era over in the U.S. Department of Justice? Is the corrupting influence of Karl Rove a thing of the past? Not by a long shot.

Consider the corruption trial of Birmingham mayor Larry Langford, which started this week in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

The prosecution team consists of four lawyers--George Martin, Lloyd Peeples, Scarlett Singleton, and Tamarra Matthews Johnson. All of them were hired by Alice Martin, former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama and a Bush appointee.

Is that a problem? Not if you ignore the fact that Martin faces allegations of criminal misconduct from her time in office. Not if you ignore the words of Scott Horton, legal-affairs contributor for Harper's and a law professor at Columbia University, who called Martin perhaps the most corrupt and crooked public official in the country.

For good measure, the judge in the Langford case is Bush-appointee J. Scott Coogler.

A Birmingham News profile of the Langford prosecutors inadvertently puts its finger on one of the many problems in Alice Martin's former kingdom. Regarding prosecutor Lloyd Peeples, the News tells us:

A case prosecuted by Peeples recently resulted in a $1.44 million civil settlement against a Shelby County business and prison time for the owners in a Medicare fraud case.

That would be the case of William and Marie King, who operated a health-care consulting company called King & Associates. The Kings apparently have little political clout in conservative circles, so they got nailed for their transgressions.
But here's what The Birmingham News doesn't tell you: Alice Martin & Co. were not always so tough on health-care fraudsters. Just consider two other cases that we've covered at Legal Schnauzer:

* The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) was involved in a massive health-care fraud scheme that was alleged to total some $600 million over at least 10 years. There is every reason to believe the problem still exists, under current UAB President Carol Garrison. But UAB, run by the business honchos of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees, has political clout. So it got off with a $3.4 million civil settlement--way less than 1 percent of the total fraud. Under the treble-damages provision of the relevant federal law, UAB could have been on the hook for roughly $1.5 billion. But Alice Martin let them off easy, and our sources say her minions never seriously investigated the charges.

* According to a whistleblower lawsuit filed in federal court, Birmingham-based Performance Group LLC has engaged in widespread health-care fraud.

Did Alice Martin bring down the hammer on that rogue outfit? Not exactly. You see, one of the owners of Performance Group is Homewood lawyer Rob Riley, the son of Alabama Governor Bob Riley. Other owners, including Dr. Thomas Spurlock and Dr. Francois Blaudeau, are affiliated with UAB. So Alice Martin chose not to intervene in the case, leaving the whistleblower to fend for herself. Riley and his gang are not in the clear; the case could be refiled. But if the governor's son ever faces justice, it won't be because of Alice Martin.

Compelling evidence suggests that Alice Martin played political favorites throughout her time as U.S. attorney. It seems reasonable to assume that the folks she hired, her proteges, would do the same thing.

All of that leaves us with a a couple of questions:

Is Larry Langford guilty? It's certainly possible. Many of us who have lived in the Birmingham area for awhile have long been concerned about Langford's tendency to play fast and loose with a buck.

Will Langford get a fair trial, given the smelly environment that Bush, Rove, and Martin left behind?

I doubt it.

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