Monday, October 19, 2009

Larry Langford, Paul Bryant Jr., and "Justice" in Alabama

Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford goes to trial today on federal corruption charges. But a behind-the-scenes story might say more about our justice system than the Langford trial ever could.

Here's the gist of the backstory: If you are Larry Langford--a black Democrat, who grew up in a housing project--you almost certainly will pay for your alleged wrongs. If you are Paul W. Bryant Jr.--a white conservative businessman and a child of wealth and privilege (his father was University of Alabama football icon Paul "Bear" Bryant)--you can avoid scrutiny of your fishy finances.

How does Bryant Jr., president of Greene Group Inc. and a member of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees, have connections to the Langford trial?

Langford's defense attorney is Mike Rasmussen, who spent almost 30 years as a federal prosecutor before going into private practice. In 1997, Rasmussen was a lead prosecutor in Pennsylvania on one of the biggest insurance-fraud cases in U.S. history. The case ended with a conviction and 15-year federal prison sentence for a Philadelphia lawyer named Allen W. Stewart.

Why was Rasmussen, based in Alabama at the time, working on a case in Pennsylvania? It's because a central player in Allen W. Stewart's fraudulent scheme was a company called Alabama Reassurance. In fact, Alabama Re was implicated in at least eight of the 135 counts on which Stewart was convicted--for racketeering, money laundering, wire and mail fraud.

Alabama Re just happens to be one of Paul Bryant Jr.'s companies, part of the Greene Group. When the Stewart trial started, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama was Caryl Privett, now a Jefferson County circuit judge.

Sources tell Legal Schnauzer that Privett's message to prosecutors and investigators on the Stewart case was this: If you go to Pennsylvania and come back with a conviction, you can move forward with a heightened investigation of Alabama Re. In other words, Paul Bryant Jr. & Co. had stepped in some serious doo-doo.

By the time the Stewart case was completed, however, Privett no longer was in office. And when investigators attempted to build on the ugly information they already had uncovered about Alabama Re, someone in a position of authority called off the dogs.

That meant that Bryant's company, which was implicated in criminal activity in Pennsylvania, would face no further scrutiny in Alabama.

Larry Langford should be so lucky.

Mike Rasmussen undoubtedly will have a number of microphones and cameras thrust into his face in the coming days. Wouldn't it be interesting if some enterprising reporter asked this question: "You were a lead prosecutor on a Pennsylvania case in which Alabama Reassurance was implicated in the late 1990s. You were authorized to pursue a heightened investigation of Alabama Re once Allen W. Stewart was convicted in Philadelphia, but someone pulled the plug. Who brought that investigation to a halt? Who took steps to make sure that Paul Bryant Jr. and his company would be protected?"

And here is perhaps a bigger question for Mike Rasmussen: "Does it bother you that your current client--a product of a Birmingham housing project--faces the full weight of the United States government today, while Paul Bryant Jr.--the product of wealth and privilege--escaped scrutiny even though his company already had been implicated in criminal activity?"

Those questions probably would cause Mike Rasmussen to "hmm" and "haw" quite a bit. Not that he did anything wrong back in the late 1990s. Our sources say Rasmussen was gung ho to go after Alabama Re--and almost certainly would have nailed them--until someone over his head put a stop to the investigation.

Our point is not that Larry Langford should be given a free pass. If it is proven that he accepted bribes in exchange for steering government-bond business to certain investment bankers, he should pay the price.

But the same should hold true for Paul Bryant Jr. and anyone else who might have been associated with wrongdoing at Alabama Re. Heck, the company only has two employees--Scott M. Phelps, president and director, and W. Rodney Windham, vice president and actuary. Bryant is chairman of the board and Tuscaloosa veterinarian A. Wayne May, a longtime associate of Bryant's, is a director.

The statute of limitations probably has passed on the financial fraud involved in the Allen W. Stewart case. But how does Alabama Re conduct its business now? Did it change its ways once it received a "Get Out of Jail Free" card back in the late 1990s?

It would not be hard to answer that question. The company and its two employees are located in the Bryant Bank building at 1550 McFarland Blvd. in Tuscaloosa.

In his "Message From the Chairman," Bryant says:

In times of economic uncertainty, it’s natural and prudent to carefully examine the strength of those financial institutions to which you entrust your hard-earned resources.

That’s why I would like to take this opportunity to reassure you that we are always working to make certain our bank is a safe place for your money. . . .

So, call us at any of the convenient locations listed on this site. Or, better yet, come see us.

I wonder if that invitation applies to federal investigators.


David in Dixie said...

there was a story a week or so ago about a lady who frequents the bingo machines at Greentrack who claimed that she saw some of Oaul Jr's employees ecsorting Landford to certain machines where hit hit jackpots totaling $20,000!! In all the years that she had been going to Greentrack, she had never seen anyone have such luck. This was a few weeks after another woman filed a suit against thedogtrack in Macon county where she claims that LL showed up and was taken to certain mchines and walked out with $50,000!!

legalschnauzer said...

Interesting. I don't think Bryant owns Greenetrack anymore, though. Believe he more or less gave it to Greene County a few years back when the dog-racing business went in the tank. In fact, I don't think they even run dogs there anymore.

Perhaps someone else knows if Bryant still has connections to Greenetrack. But I think his main gambling interests now are in Texas and Idaho.