Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Media Displays Breathtaking Hypocrisy in Coverage of the Penn State Scandal

Humor is hard to find in the story of alleged child sexual abuse connected to the football program at Penn State University. But I've had to guffaw several times at the righteous indignation emanating from the mainstream media (MSM), expressing outrage that Penn State officials could turn a blind eye to misconduct in their midst.

Some MSMers even have hurled the term "cover up" at iconic football coach Joe Paterno and other PSU honchos. Why has that brought guffaws--of the dark-humor variety--from yours truly? It's because few institutions in American life are more adept than the mainstream media at providing cover for bad behavior, even criminal conduct.

As a sort of experiment, I recently contacted a reporter who had chastised Penn State officials for a  "massive failure of leadership" when they were confronted with evidence of gross misconduct from former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. I reminded the reporter via e-mail, with copies to appropriate editors, that his newspaper had repeatedly ignored evidence of wrongdoing in its own backyard.

Did I receive a reply? Did the reporter and his superiors admit that they had failed to adequately cover any number of important stories and vow to do better--especially in light of their harsh words for the inactions of Penn State officials?

The answers? No and no. Given that the paper in question was The Birningham News, I hardly was surprised. But the same questions could be put to reporters and editors around the country--and they, too, probably would respond with a stony silence.

What prompted me to initiate a possible dialogue with folks at my local daily--when I know that such efforts almost always prove to be futile? Well, a column from sportswriter Jon Solomon, titled "Joe Paterno Had to Leave Immediately," grabbed my attention. And my own knowledge of a major scandal that The Birmingham News has ignored prompted me to act.

Here's how Solomon got rolling:

Even to the end, Joe Paterno thought he still called the shots. He thought after the massive failure of moral leadership at Penn State that he could still leave on his terms--after the season--rather than right now.

The failure by the adults in the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse was unfathomable. They all had to go immediately.

Solomon continued in the same unctuous mode:

Read the sickening grand jury report and it's devastating to see the number of missed chances to stop the alleged abuse and prevent other kids from getting hurt.

It's hard not to conclude that protecting Paterno's image and the win-at-all-costs mentality of college football resulted in Penn State turning a blind eye.

That was all I could take. I had to remind Solomon and Co. about a little matter involving Paul Bryant Jr., president pro tempore of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees. Bryant, one of the most powerful boosters in college athletics, has documented ties to a massive insurance-fraud scheme that landed a Pennsylvania lawyer named Allen W. Stewart in federal prison for 15 years. I have reported extensively on Bryant's ties to the case, but the MSM--both in Alabama and beyond--has ignored it. In other words, they have "turned a blind eye," the very thing that had Solomon's undies in a bunch.

I dashed off an e-mail to Solomon, with copies to Sports Editor Tom Arenberg and Editor Tom Scarritt. The header on my e-mail was "Jerry Sandusky and Paul Bryant Jr." Here is how it read:


I read with great interest your article today about the Penn State situation and Joe Paterno's failure to act on reports of criminal activity. You state that Paterno "had to go immediately" because of a "massive failure of moral leadership" at PSU. This all comes, you state, because Paterno and other Penn State leaders failed to act on reports of criminal actions involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky

Your piece raises this question: Does The Birmingham News act on reports it receives of criminal acts? What kind of moral leadership does The Birmingham News possess?

For example, I know that Paul Bryant Jr., president pro tempore of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees, was implicated in a $15 million insurance fraud scheme several years ago. This doesn't involve any great reporting on my part. Documents are available on the Web that prove the involvement of Alabama Reassurance, one of Bryant's companies, in a scheme that netted a 15-year federal prison sentence for a Pennsylvania lawyer/entrepreneur named Allen W. Stewart.

In fact, I provide the key document, highlighting pertinent portions, in the following post at my blog, Legal Schnauzer:

The post also includes information about a probable cover-up of Bryant's activities by officials with the U.S. Justice Department in the Northern District of Alabama.

Penn State officials apparently could not grasp the notion that Jerry Sandusky, a "leader of men," could be molesting boys--and you blast them for their moral failings. But can you and officials at The Birmingham News grasp this? Paul Bryant Jr. has documented ties to massive insurance fraud, and yet he sits as president of a board that makes decisions about millions of Alabama taxpayer dollars.

And remember, these are not just allegations. A federal jury in Philadelphia voted guilty on all 135 counts in the Stewart case, and Bryant's firm clearly was involved in a "wire fraud scheme" to "inflate the values" of various insurance companies. Many Americans wound up with worthless policies, as a result.

My question is this: Will The Birmingham News act on reports of criminal activity that it receives--on actions taking place right under your nose?

You are saying that someone should have brought attention to the wrongful acts of Jerry Sandusky? And I can't argue with that. But what about the wrongful acts of Paul Bryant Jr.? Are you going to sit on your hands about those? Are you going to exhibit the very behavior for which you batter Joe Paterno and others at Penn State?


Roger Shuler

I have no problem with anyone pointing out the failings of Penn State officials in the Jerry Sandusky case. Numerous commentators have pointed to Penn State's "insular culture" as a likely reason for the university's poor response to the Sandusky allegations. And they almost surely are right.

But it's important to remember that America is filled with insular cultures. The legal profession is a classic example. So, in many cases, is the press.

What happens when you confront reporters and editors with their own "massive failure of moral leadership"? They become mute.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Balcony Collapse at University of North Texas Produces Severe Injuries

The Grove at Denton, Texas

Reports in the mainstream press have indicated that three men recovered nicely from injuries sustained when a balcony collapsed at a student-housing complex near the University of North Texas.

The public was left with the impression that the injuries at The Grove apartments in Denton, Texas, were relatively minor. But a blog post from a Houston law firm indicates those impressions are way off base.

In a post titled "'Good Condition' in HospitalSpeak vs. Actual Good Condition," the law firm Denena and Points reports that the three men suffered a total of 11 broken bones. One man had his ankles broken so severely that he might lose both feet. Another will need reconstructive surgery on his face and will have his jaw wired shut for months. Another had a ruptured bladder.

The apartments in question are owned by Campus Crest Communities, a Charlotte-based company headed by Ted Rollins. Campus Crest and Rollins have been the subjects of numerous posts here at Legal Schnauzer, largely because of the CEO's involvement in a divorce case that unlawfully was removed from South Carolina to Alabama and resulted in a monstrous cheat job for Sherry Carroll Rollins, Ted's ex wife and the mother of his two daughters.

How bad was the cheat job administered by Shelby County Circuit Judge D. Al Crowson, apparently with the assistance of Ted Rollins' Birmingham-based corporate law firm, Bradley Arant? Ted Rollins, who belongs to one of the nation's wealthiest family, pays the grand sum of $815 a month in child support. That means his daughters, Sarah and Emma, are on food stamps in Alabama.

Ted Rollins (second from right) and
the Campus Crest management team
We repeatedly have sent written questions via e-mail to Ted Rollins, seeking comment about the fact that his ex wife and daughters have been forced to go on food stamps. He has refused to respond--even though he repeatedly has said he would be "more than happy" to answer written questions--and we've seen no signs that he has taken steps to make sure his family members do not need food stamps.

If Ted Rollins apparently does not care about his own flesh and blood, should the public expect him to care about the young people who rent apartments at the roughly 30 Grove complexes around the country? Should we expect Ted Rollins to even care about people who have been severely injured at one of his properties?

Probably not.

An early response from Campus Crest hinted that it was the victims' fault for standing on a decorative balcony that was not designed to bear the weight of three adults--even though a fully functioning door led directly onto the balcony.

Campus Crest seemingly has been happy to let the public believe that the three men were not seriously hurt. But the Houston law blog paints a different story. A hospital spokesman at the time listed the men in "good condition." If that was the case, I would hate to hear about someone who was in "poor condition."

Here are the injuries, as reported by the Houston law blog:

Grant Draper:
Broken pelvis,
Broken wrist,
2 broken ankles,
Broken bone close to the hip,
Landed on the balls of his feet which burst through the skin and detached the protective fat pads, and
May lose both feet at the ankles if the tissue does not heal and reconnect properly.

Garrett Draper:
Fell face first on a car below,
Sent into a drug-induced coma and intubated because of the severity of his facial injuries,
Broken jaw,
Fractured teeth,
Broken cheek,
Facial lacerations,
Will have jaw wired shut for months,
Will need reconstructive surgery on his face,
Will likely need dental reconstruction,
Broken pelvis,
Broken arm,
Broken ankle,
Collapsed lung, and
Had rod inserted in hip to stabilize joint.

Tony Garcia:
Broken pelvis, and
Ruptured bladder.

It hurts just to read that. I wondered how Ted Rollins would feel after reading it, so I sent him a copy and asked for his response. He had his PR outfit send the official Campus Crest response:

Our thoughts and prayers remain with the individuals and their families. The safety and well being of our residents and guests that visit our properties is our top priority and concern. We have taken proactive measures to ensure nothing like this happens again. We wish the individuals a full recovery.

Meanwhile, the Houston law blog has taught me to look at hospital condition reports in a different light:

Hospitals see all the worst injuries and illnesses every single day. "Non-life threatening injuries" simply means that the person probably won't die. "Good condition" seems to mean that the person probably won't die and that no unexpected complications have sprung from treatments and surgeries. But these terms clearly don't imply "good" or "non threatening" in the sense in which we usually use them.

So next time you come across these bland injury descriptions, you may think about the possible severity of the pain, suffering and depth of injury the accident victims may have suffered. These innocuous phrases: non-life threatening injuries and good condition, don't rule out permanent disfigurement or disability. They don't rule out crippling injuries. They don't rule out permanent organ damage. They only rule out the immediate prospect of death.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Woman Gets Fired For Complaining About Porn In The Workplace

Michelle Luebbert worked for a man who enjoyed copious amounts of pornography on his work computer, so she decided to do something about it. Determined that she no longer should be subjected to the sights and sounds emanating from her boss' office, Luebbert complained to higher ups. And they took immediate action . . . by firing her.

Now Luebbert is suing to get her job back, plus damages. If a jury sides with her, Luebbert's bank account should take a nice bump. And her former employer--the Webster Electric Cooperative in southwest Missouri--will have a spot in the Workplace Dunderheads Hall of Fame.

As someone who was fired for writing a progressive blog about matters of public interest--on my own time, with my own resources--I'm not easily shocked by workplace stupidity. But even I was left with my mouth agape as I read about Luebbert's experience at the rural utility company in Webster County, near Marshfield, Missouri. Here is how the Springfield News-Leader reported on Luebbert's lawsuit against General Manager Thomas E. Houston, the cooperative, and its board members:

Luebbert, who worked at the cooperative since 2002, said in her suit that the board of directors fired her on Sept. 21, after she complained to them about Houston watching pornography in his office. Workers could see his screen through an open door. She was manager of accounting and finance at the time of the firing.

"His viewing progressively became more frequent and active, the extent of which was pervasive, continuous and offensive," her attorney Jay Kirksey wrote in the suit. The day before she was fired, the suit says, Luebbert "was offered a settlement if she would remain quiet as to Defendant Houston's conduct."

They offered to pay her off if she stayed quiet? I'd say things aren't looking real great for the utility folks at the moment. And get this?

Kirksey wrote that it got so difficult in the office that women would purposefully step on a metal grate near Houston's door in hopes the sound of someone approaching would get him to switch the screen. Kirksey also said the women used weather terms to refer to their chances of catching Houston watching pornography.

If "humidity was 90 percent" and the "barometric pressure was rising," that must have meant the boss was having a jolly good time in PornLand.

A law firm representing Webster Electric Cooperative issued a public statement about the controversy. My guess is that the utility will try to portray Luebbert as an employee who had "performance deficiencies," even though she had worked there for almost 10 years.

I know all about that lowdown sort of strategy. The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), where I worked for 19 years until being fired in May 2008, filed documents in my ongoing federal lawsuit claiming I was fired because of performance issues.

How ugly can it get when employers try to cover their tracks after cheating an employee out of his or her job? Well, I can show that multiple current and former UAB managers perjured themselves in sworn statements about the reasons for my termination. In UAB's response to my lawsuit, my former supervisor made all sorts of claims about my alleged declining performance. But when Pam Powell was asked at my university grievance hearing to provide evidence supporting such claims, she could not produce a single piece of paper from my file, or anywhere else. She also could not explain why she had given me a positive performance review just a few months before firing me.

Powell went so far as to claim that one of my clients, Alumni Affairs director Becky Watson, had complained about my performance. When I produced an e-mail in which Watson wrote glowingly about my work for her office . . . well, Powell didn't have an answer for that one.

I recite these facts from my own case to illustrate the kind of stunts that probably will be pulled against Luebbert. Based on what we know at the moment, the Webster Electric Cooperative would be smart to settle the lawsuit as quickly and quietly as possible.

If the utility's managers were smart, of course, they would not be in this position in the first place.

Here is a copy of the complaint in Michelle Luebbert's lawsuit:

Michelle Luebbert Lawsuit

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Did Republican House Candidate Deceive the Public About Her Wealth?

Michele and Ted Rollins

Documents in an Alabama-related divorce case indicate a 2010 GOP candidate for a U.S. House seat made deceptive statements about her family wealth.

Michele Rollins ran for Delaware's at-large House seat and lost in the Republican primary. Before bowing out in a race that ultimately went to Democrat John C. Carney, Rollins tried to downplay her wealth. In the process, she seemingly presented deceptive information to Delaware voters.

If that's not the case, then it appears someone was playing fast with the facts in a high-stakes divorce case with Alabama ties.

Had Rollins won the Delaware House seat, she immediately would have become one of the wealthiest members of Congress. With assets between $90 million and $350 million, Rollins would have been in the rarefied financial air occupied by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), worth at least $184 million, and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), worth at least $156 million.

Rollins, however, apparently decided that her chances of winning would be enhanced if she downplayed her wealth. An article on the financial disclosure forms of Delaware candidates, described Rollins assets:

Rollins' disclosures, for example, tell you that she is a wealthy woman, with personal assets of $30 million to $141 million and her name attached to total property and investments worth at least $92 million and maybe as much as $350 million.

The forms don't tell you, though, that the estate of her late husband, businessman John W. Rollins Sr., was placed in trust for his 10 children and is inaccessible to her. John Rollins, a former lieutenant governor of Delaware, made his fortune with a truck-leasing firm, an entertainment complex that included Dover Downs and Dover Motorsports, and the lavish, 7,000-acre waterfront Rose Hall Resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Michele Rollins' income comes largely from the dividends and interest emerging from the trusts Rollins set aside for the children.

That last sentence appears to be a reference to RMT Trust, the largest shareholder of Dover Motorsports  Inc. of Delaware. RMT Trust is controlled by a man named Henry B. Tippie, of Austin, Texas, who long has been the "money man" behind various Rollins ventures. Dover Motorsports Inc. has not been performing well, as the Bush recession has hurt a number of NASCAR venues, and one unhappy investor commissioned a study titled "Dancing on the Deck of the Titantic: Henry B. Tippie and Dover Motorsports Inc." Here is how that study described RMT Trust:

Following the death of John W. Rollins, Senior on April 4, 2000, Henry Tippie (at the time, Vice Chairman of Dover) was named executor of Mr. Rollins’ vast estate, and thereafter, Mr. Tippie possessed more than 50% voting control of the Company. The Last Will and Testament of John W. Rollins, Senior, established the RMT Trust as the primary vehicle to transfer assets to his wife, Michele M. Rollins. Among many of its stakes in property and operating assets, the RMT Trust held 8 million shares of Class A Common Stock in 2009, which represented approximately 39.4% of the voting control of Dover Motorsports. The Last Will and Testament stipulated that the RMT Trust would be administered by three trustees, presently Michele M. Rollins, R. Randall Rollins, and Henry B. Tippie. Through an agreement which renews annually, Michele Rollins and Randall Rollins yielded sole discretion over the voting power of shares held by RMT Trust to Henry Tippie. Therefore, at the behest of the Rollins, Henry Tippie maintained the dual role of Chairman of the Company and voting trustee of RMT Trust and was able to single-handedly determine the outcome of any and all shareholder votes.

As you can see, Rollins family finances can get complicated. But we have tried to sort them out because the Rollinses have strong connections to Alabama--and we have seen signs that they tend not to play fair.

One of John Rollins' 10 children is Ted Rollins, the CEO of Campus Crest Communities and the subject of numerous posts here at Legal Schnauzer. Our interest in Ted Rollins stems mostly from a divorce case that Sherry Carroll Rollins launched against him in 2001. It also should be noted that Ted Rollins has strong business interests in Alabama. His primary corporate law firm is Birmingham-based Bradley Arant, and Campus Crest Communities recently announced that it plans to develop a $26.3 million student-housing project at Auburn University.

As for the Rollins v. Rollins divorce case, it was filed in Greenville, South Carolina, where the couple lived, and was litigated there for roughly three years. When Ted Rollins failed to make court-ordered payments on the former marital residence, Sherry Carroll Rollins and the couple's two daughters were kicked out of their house and forced to flee to Alabama, where Ms. Rollins had relatives.

Ted Rollins proceeded to sue Sherry Rollins for divorce in Alabama, even though jurisdiction already had been established in South Carolina and could not lawfully be changed. Ted Rollins wound up with an extraordinarily favorable judgment at the Shelby County Courthouse in Columbiana, the same venue where Mrs. Schnauzer and I have repeatedly been cheated by corrupt lawyers and judges. Hence, our interest in Rollins v. Rollins, which I've called the worst case of courtroom abuse (civil division) in my experience.

Why should Rollins almost induce vomiting in anyone who is remotely familiar with jurisdictional law? There are several reasons, but here is the biggie: Ted Rollins was ordered to pay the grand sum of $815 a month in support for two children. And this is for a guy who owns multiple private jet craft and is CEO of a company with a $380 million Wall Street IPO in hand.

Because of that judgment from Shelby County Circuit Judge D. Al Crowson, who could not lawfully hear the case, Sherry Rollins and her two daughters are on food stamps. As for Ted Rollins, his ties to the highest levels of the Alabama legal community, through Bradley Arant, apparently paid off big time.

How well did those ties pay off? Let's consider the math. Ted Rollins' efforts to reduce his family-support obligations actually began in South Carolina--and that is where Michele Rollins entered the picture. A South Carolina judge issued a temporary order calling for Ted Rollins to pay $8,355 a month in overall support. Upon a motion to reconsider from Ted Rollins' lawyer, that amount was reduced to $4,500 a month.

How did Ted Rollins justify the motion for reconsideration? He more or less blamed it on Michele Rollins, stating that she controlled his trust account with an iron fist. Here's how a court order dated October 17, 2002, sums it up:

[Mr. Rollins] also presented evidence that he is among nine (9) contingent remainders to his deceased father's marital trust estate and that his access to this possible source of funds is permanently restricted to the discretion of his deceased father's widow who does not intend to give him an advance.

I don't claim to be an expert in estate law, and marital trusts can be a tricky subject because they come in several varieties. Something, however, seems incongruent here. We have Ted Rollins stating in court that access to his trust funds are strictly controlled by Michele Rollins. But we have Michele Rollins stating that the trust funds for John Rollins' children are inaccessible to her.

Could Michele Rollins have control over her late husband's trust without having access to it? Does that make sense?

This much is clear: Ted Rollins got one heck of a deal by shifting the divorce case against him from one state to another. It looked at first, in South Carolina, like Ted Rollins would be paying somewhere in the neighborhood of $8,300 a month in family support. By the time the case was finished in Alabama, he was paying $1,315 a month ($815 in child support, $500 in alimony). And the Alabama court, in its final judgement, never mentioned any marital assets--businesses, property, investments, etc.--to which Sherry Rollins might have been entitled to a share over 14 years of marriage.

I'm not a mathematician, but it looks like the unlawful shift of the Rollins divorce case to Alabama helped reduce Ted Rollins monthly support bill by about 640 percent. And that doesn't count any marital assets that should have been divided up, but were not.

Rollins-family finances can create a tangled web, but we do know this: Sherry Rollins and her daughters are on food stamps in Alabama because of the paltry support sum ordered by Judge Crowson. And public documents indicate Michele Rollins played a prominent role in making that happen. We also know that Ted and Michele Rollins are very much aware that their relatives in Alabama are on food stamps; we know that because I notified both of them via e-mail. Neither one of them seems to give a damn because they have done nothing about it.

When I questioned Ted Rollins about the Rollins divorce case, he said--in so many words--that it was litigated long ago, his ex wife received a fair hearing, and it's all a private matter anyway.

That, of course, is a bunch of horse feces. Sherry Rollins' appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court was denied in 2008, which isn't that long ago. The case could not be lawfully heard in Alabama, so it clearly was not handled in a fair fashion. And it was litigated in courts that are funded by taxpayers, including me, so it is a public matter.

As for Michele Rollins, she asked voters to make her a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, helping to form policy that affects all Americans. Clearly, her affairs are a matter of public interest.

The public has every right to ask, "Do Ted and Michele Rollins conduct their business in a fair, honest, and open way?" When a reasonable person looks at matters connected to RMT Trust and the Rollins v. Rollins divorce case, he can conclude that the answer is no.

Best we can tell, someone is playing fast with the facts on matters of the family trust. It seems Michele Rollins fudged regarding her financial disclosure forms, in an effort to disguise her true wealth. Or Ted Rollins fudged regarding Michele Rollins' control over his trust funds, in an effort to reduce his family-support payments. Which one was it?

Either way, the Rollinses appear to be sending disturbing messages about the business methods that make them one of the nation's wealthiest families.

In an effort to clear up confusion, I sent several questions regarding RMT Trust to Ted Rollins, with a copy to Michele Rollins. I received no response to my queries, which can be viewed below.

Ted Rollins E- Mail--RMT Trust

Monday, November 21, 2011

UAB's Weak Leadership Is At the Heart of Trustee's Letter on Stadium Issue

Finis St. John

The debate over a proposed on-campus football stadium at UAB has been one of the biggest stories in Birmingham over the past two weeks. But the story took a dramatic shift on Friday--and it's possible that the public does not fully realize it.

Finis St. John, a member of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees, explained his opposition to the stadium proposal in a letter to the UAB National Alumni Society. In the process, St. John inadvertently (we assume) shifted the focus to weak leadership on the UAB campus--and that is a far bigger story than anything involving a football stadium. (See St. John's full letter at the end of this post.)

It's a rarity for me to agree with a UA board member on anything, but St. John is right to point a finger at UAB's current administration and President Carol Garrison. He also is correct to state that UAB has far bigger problems than the venue for its football games. But St. John conveniently ignores this question: Why has the board of trustees sat quietly by while Carol Garrison has run UAB into the ground?

Evidence of Garrison's incompetence has been visible for years, and we have reported about it frequently on this blog. So why is Finis St. John just now paying attention? After all, St. John and his fellow trustees are Carol Garrison's boss. They have the power to send her packing. She's been president for 10 years, and its taken the board that long to realize she isn't up to the job?

St. John clearly states in his letter that UAB has been deteriorating with Carol Garrison at the controls. In so many words, he trashes Garrison as a leader. But St. John has taken no steps to stop the university's slide. What does that say about his leadership?

The gist of St. John's letter is this: The UAB Medical Center is in decline, and alumni should spend their time focusing on that problem rather than worrying about an on-campus football stadium. From St. John's letter:

UAB is a national and world leader in many fields. The hospital and medical school are points of pride for everyone in our state. But in the last 10 years UAB has faced increasing challenges. In health research funding, UAB's national ranking has declined significantly over the last 10 years. The cancer and cardiology programs are no longer nationally ranked. Changes in health care funding will require intense focus and leadership to maintain the excellence we expect from UAB. I would hope that everyone who cares about UAB and the people it serves will encourage UAB to make these matters of crucial importance to its students and the state of Alabama its highest priority."

The section in bold, buried toward the middle of St. John's letter, is where the rubber meets the proverbial road. He uses a 10-year time frame--Garrison became president in July 2002--and then states that UAB's biomedical research funding is slipping, and two of its best known health-care programs (cardiology and cancer) no longer are nationally ranked.

Carol Garrison
It's hard to imagine a more scathing indictment of Carol Garrison's tenure. St. John says he wants UAB alumni to focus on such issues. But what is he going to do about them? After all, he's the one who sits on the board of trustees. He's the one who OK'd Garrison's hiring and has allowed her to stay in place.

Here is an ugly secret that many UAB sports fans like to ignore: Even Blazer athletics have been deteriorating under Garrison--and her predecessor, W. Ann Reynolds.

A quick look at the history of the UAB football program tells the story. The university hired Watson Brown in 1995 to take the Blazers into Division 1-A, college football's highest classification. For his first six years on the job, Brown did a remarkable job. Playing schedules filled with established programs, the Blazers posted winning seasons in 2000 (7-4) and 2001 (6-5), even beating SEC powerhouse LSU and a nationally ranked East Carolina team.

But Gene Bartow, the father of Blazer sports, retired as athletics director in 2000--and that unleashed a whirlwind of administrative incompetence. Reynolds unilaterally hired Herman Frazier of Arizona State as athletics director, even though he had no ties to the South and spent much of his time on duties connected to the U.S. Olympics movement. UAB had an absent AD for much of Frazier's tenure--and that allowed rot to set in.

When Reynolds and Frazier exited in 2002, Brown wound up serving as both athletics director and head football coach for three years. Garrison arrived as president in 2002 and failed to address problems in the athletics department. With Brown trying to fill two full-time jobs, decay started showing in the football program.

The Blazers made it to the Hawaii Bowl in 2004, the only bowl appearance in school history. But two years later, the team went 3-9--and Brown resigned under pressure to take the head coaching job at Tennessee Tech, in his hometown of Cookeville, Tennessee.

Garrison reportedly failed to stand up to UA board member Paul Bryant Jr. and agreed to hire a former Crimson Tide player and coach, Neil Callaway, as UAB's head coach. The results have been disastrous. Callaway has produced records of 2-10, 4-8, 5-7, and 4-8. The 2011 Blazers are 3-8 heading into the season finale Saturday at Florida Atlantic.

Attendance, which was thin to begin with, has plummeted during the Callaway regime. UAB fans have called for Callaway's firing, and Bryant apparently responded by pulling the stadium proposal off the table.

Many UAB fans were happy when Watson Brown left town. But where do things stand now? UAB is finishing up another dismal season under Callaway. Brown, free of administrative chaos at UAB, has Tennessee Tech in the national playoffs for the first time in 36 years.

UAB's medical center, its football program, and its overall reputation have gradually declined on Carol Garrison's watch. Finis St. John was correct to point out a leadership void at the institution.

Now, what is he going to do about it?

Finis St.. John Letter

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Mystery Deepens: Coroner's Explanation for Bashinsky Suicide Has Serious Holes

Major Bashinsky

A medical examiner's finding that prominent Alabama attorney Major Bashinsky killed himself in March 2010 is based almost entirely on reports that Bashinsky visited a hardware store to purchase rope and duct tape similar to that found on his body.

Reports from a private investigator, however, indicate that employees at the hardware store could not positively identify Bashinsky as the man who purchased the rope and tape. In fact, according to the PI's report, law-enforcement officials told store employees that it was Bashinsky, not the other way around.

Also, a recent report about former Mobile County Commissioner Stephen Nodine and the shooting death of his longtime girlfriend, Angel Downs, provides new insights into the Bashinsky case.

The PI's findings add to an already substantial body of evidence that indicates the manner of death in the Bashinsky case should have been classified as "undetermined," followed by a serious investigation. Instead, the public is left with a suicide finding that is supported by almost no evidence of any kind.

We already have shown that the suicide finding in the Bashinsky case is filled with holes. ("Suicide Finding In the Major Bashinsky Case Springs Multiple Leaks.") We also have shown that the official finding from Jefferson County Coroner Gary T. Simmons is supported by zero forensic evidence. ("Suicide of Former Baseball Star Prompts Questions About the Major Bashinsky Case.")

In his summary, Simmons bases the suicide finding almost entirely on reports about Bashinsky's supposed visit to the Five Points Hardware. But now we know that visit might have never happened.

Five Points Hardware
Five Points Hardware
An Alabama-based private investigator took a look at the case several months ago. The PI was not being paid, so he was unable to conduct a full-scale investigation. But he visited the golf-course water hazard where Bashinsky's body was found, walked the path Bashinsky supposedly took from Five Points South to the Highland Park Golf Course, and stopped by the hardware store and a nearby coffee shop--both of which Bashinsky reportedly visited in the hours leading to his death.

A source tells Legal Schnauzer that the PI visited with hardware-store employees and found they had no idea if Bashinsky had visited the store. From our source, in an e-mail on the date of the PI's investigation:

Just got off the phone with my friend who went by the Hardware store. He spoke with the owner and he told me that he was not very friendly, rude actually. The FBI came in and told (the owner) that it was Major that came in and purchased the items and the case was closed. . . .

(The PI) then went to Starbucks and talked with two females. One said (Major) had come in with his son . . . I am assuming Brooks. They gave him a number to call to speak with another girl.

He went to the golf course and is there now. The guy at the golf course wouldn't say anything about it. Another fellow told him to leave. He is going down to the pond now and taking pictures.

To my knowledge, the investigation went no further. But we now know that law enforcement officials decided it was Major Bashinsky in the hardware store, regardless of what store employees could determine.

That blows a significant hole in the official finding of suicide.

News reports about the Stephen Nodine case in Mobile also blow holes in the Bashinsky suicide finding. A recent report indicates prosecutors might try to hold Nodine criminally accountable for Angel Downs' shooting death--even if it's proven that she killed herself.

That sounds like a novel and shaky legal theory, to say the least. But the Nodine story tells us something interesting about the Bashinsky case. Consider this from, which addresses a hung jury in the first Nodine trial:

In December, then-Baldwin County District Attorney Judy Newcomb presented evidence that she argued would show Nodine shot Downs, his longtime girlfriend, in the driveway of her Gulf Shores condominium. The jury could not reach a unanimous verdict.

Assistant state medical examiner Dr. Eugene Hart testified at the December trial that Downs’ death was consistent with suicide but he ruled the cause as "undetermined" because he could not prove that she pulled the trigger.

A medical examiner must prove the decedent pulled the trigger in order to determine a gunshot death was a suicide? You never would know that from reading the ME's report in the Bashinsky case. Jefferson County Coroner Gary T. Simmons presents zero evidence that Bashinsky pulled the trigger. Simmons notes that a gun was found in the pond with Bashinsky's body, but is not able to tie the gun to Bashinsky's death, and no bullet was found to match the gun. Simmons doesn't even address the key issue in the Bashinky case: Who pulled the trigger?

The Stephen Nodine story adds to a mountain of evidence indicating that Major Bashinsky's death should have been classified as "undetermined."

Why were Jefferson County officials so quick to rule it a suicide when they had almost no evidence pointing in that direction?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Penn State Isn't the Only University That's Been Harboring a Football-Related Scandal

Paul Bryant Jr.

A chorus of outrage has been spreading across the country in the wake of news reports about the attempted cover-up of child sexual abuse at Penn State. But Penn State is not the only university that has been providing cover for a football-related scandal.

In fact, I have reported extensively on a scandal right here in our backyard, at the University of Alabama, and it has drawn mostly a collective shrug of the shoulders from the public. Where is the outrage about that? Does a scandal have to involve children and sex to get the public's attention?

Paul Bryant Jr., the son of Hall of Fame coach Paul "Bear" Bryant and UA's best-known football booster, has clear ties to a federal insurance-fraud case that netted a 15-year prison sentence for a Philadelphia lawyer/entrepreneur named Allen W. Stewart. One of Bryant's companies, Alabama Reassurance, was implicated in at least nine counts of the Stewart indictment.

Has Bryant been shunned or kept at a distance by the U of A? Not exactly. In fact, he pretty much runs the place, from his perch as president pro tempore of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees. ESPN calls Bryant one of the most powerful boosters in college athletics.

How can we put this in perspective? A man who was linked to an insurance-fraud scheme that was estimated at $15 million now rules over a board that makes decisions about millions of taxpayer dollars. I would use the old "fox guarding the hen house" analogy here, but that would be an insult to foxes. After all, we can assume that not all foxes have caused mayhem in hen houses. But there can be no doubt about Bryant's ties to insurance fraud; they are spelled out in documents that we have published multiple times here at Legal Schnauzer. (You can view the primary document, from U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania, at the end of this post.)

Is the public really outraged about the notion of wrongdoing and cover-ups on university campuses or is it just entranced by the sordid nature of the grand-jury report from Penn State?

The Alabama scandal, ironically, dates to the 1990s, about the time that signs of improper conduct from assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky were first seen--and mostly ignored--at Penn State.

Financial crimes are at the heart of the Alabama story, and that clearly is not as titillating as the stories of child rape in an on-campus shower facility at Penn State. But in some respects, the Alabama scandal is even more shocking than the one at Penn State--and that's because it involves an individual who wields way more power at UA than Jerry Sandusky ever dreamed of at PSU.

Here's another difference about the two scandals: Sandusky has already been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion, but under U.S. law, he must be presumed innocent. In fact, Sandusky and his lawyer stated in an interview with NBC's Bob Costas that the coach, in fact, is innocent. Many Americans probably are not buying that story, but the possibility remains that Sandusky could be found not guilty of the charges against him.

That won't happen in the Alabama scandal. A federal jury in Pennsylvania already has voted guilty on all 135 counts in the Allen W. Stewart case, and the verdict has been upheld by appellate courts. Paul Bryant Jr. was not named as an individual in the case. But Alabama Reassurance, one of his companies under Greene Group Inc., was front and center.

You might say that Alabama Re was a "tightly held" company. It had a five-person board, headed by Bryant, and two of those board members served as the company's only full-time employees. It's hard to believe that any of those five people could have been unaware of the company's involvement in an insurance-fraud scheme.

In a previous post, here is how we described Alabama Re's role in the Stewart case:

It's not as if serious doubt exists about Bryant's connections to fraud. . . . A ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania . . . upholds Allen W. Stewart's convictions--and proves Alabama Re's role in the case. And we quote from a pertinent section of that ruling, encompassed in footnote 11:

11. The relevant portions of the charge read as follows:
Counts 24 through 32 charge a wire fraud scheme to deceive state insurance regulators involving reinsurance. The superseding indictment alleges that in late 1992 or early 1993 the defendant devised a scheme to deceive state regulators and others regarding the true and complete reinsurance arrangements involving Summit National Life Insurance Company, its subsidiary Fidelity General Life Insurance Company, and the Alabama Reassurance Company in order to inflate their financial statements.

What did Bryant and his cohorts do? They "devised a scheme to deceive state regulators" in order to disguise "the true and complete reinsurance arragements" involving three companies--one of which was Alabama Re. What was the purpose of this arrangement? To make the companies look stronger than they really were--in other words, to "inflate their financial statements."

Executives from HealthSouth, Enron, WorldCom, Tyco and other rogue companies have gone to federal prison for their roles in such schemes. So how did Paul Bryant Jr. manage to escape scrutiny? We have addressed that question in a previous post:

Public documents show that Alabama Reassurance was implicated in a $15-million scheme that netted a 15-year prison sentence for a Pennsylvania man named Allen W. Stewart in the late 1990s. An investigation of Alabama Re was called off, apparently because Bryant had friends in the U.S. attorney's office for the Northern District of Alabama.

G. Douglas Jones, now a lawyer at the Birmingham firm of Haskell Slaughter, had just become U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama when the Alabama Re investigation was called off. Multiple sources tell Legal Schnauzer that Jones has ties to Bryant and has done legal work for him. I twice have asked Jones if he called off the Alabama Re investigation, and he has refused to answer the question. In fact, Jones has refused to answer any questions from me--including questions about his work with Rob Riley, son of former Governor Bob Riley, on a federal HealthSouth lawsuit that netted millions of dollars for plaintiffs' lawyers. Jones' refusal to answer questions from me is odd, given that he regularly is quoted in various media outlets. He becomes mute when the subjects of Paul Bryant Jr. and Rob Riley are raised.

How ugly could all of this get? If Doug Jones or someone else in the DOJ deliberately took steps to protect Paul Bryant and his company, they might have committed a crime under 18 U.S.C. 4 ("Misprision of Felony"). A companion statute can be found at 28 U.S.C. 1361 ("Action to Compel an Officer of the United States to Perform his Duty").

The Alabama scandal does not involve horrifying accounts of child rape. But it does involve an apparently systematic effort to cover up one man's ties to financial crimes--and then place that man in a preeminent position within the university power structure. If the cover-up involved deliberate acts of U.S. Justice Department officials . . . well, we are talking about crimes that go to the very heart of our legal system.

Outrage over the Penn State case certainly is understandable. Meanwhile, closer to home, a man with documented ties to massive insurance fraud is making decisions about millions of taxpayer dollars. Why is outrage missing in the story of Paul Bryant Jr. and the Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama?

Alabama Re Memorandum Opinion

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

CEO Repeatedly Violates Court Orders--And Gets Away With It

Ted Rollins, the CEO of Campus Crest Communities, violated at least three court orders in a divorce case that started in South Carolina and ended in Alabama. Court records indicate Rollins never was held accountable for any of the violations.

Is that because Rollins belongs to one of America's wealthiest families, the folks behind Atlanta-based Rollins Inc.? It certainly looks that way. Rollins Inc. is the parent company for Orkin Pest Control and other profitable enterprises. The company is led by brothers R. Randall Rollins and Gary W. Rollins, who according to an article in an Atlanta business publication, had stock worth of more than $700 million each in 2005.

And how is this for irony? Rollins Inc. has a history of working in home and business security, under the Rollins Protective Services brand. That unit was sold to Chicago-based Ameritech in 1997 and became part of SecurityLink.

A family with a history in the security business surely believes in law and order, right? Well, apparently not--when the law breaker is Ted Rollins, a cousin to the two brothers at the top of Rollins Inc. Ted Rollins has violated one court order after another, and no one in the justice system--or the Rollins family  hierarchy--seems the least bit concerned about it.

Let's consider some of Ted Rollins' actions in a divorce case that Sherry Carroll Rollins filed against him in Greenville, South Carolina, where the couple lived. After being litigated for roughly three years in Greenville, Rollins v. Rollins was unlawfully moved to Shelby County, Alabama, where Ted Rollins received an extraordinarily favorable divorce judgment. He was ordered to pay such a paltry sum in family support that Sherry Rollins and the couple's two teen-aged daughters now are on food stamps in Alabama.

How could that happen? For one reason, Ted Rollins never faced the consequences for violating court orders. These orders involved critical issues in any divorce case--discovery, shelter, and legal expenses. Ted Rollins was allowed to "skate" on all three issues:

* Discovery on financial assets--Division of marital assets, after child custody and support, probably is the critical issue in most divorce cases. In an order dated September 10, 2001, South Carolina Judge R. Kinard Johnson addressed the issue: "I find that Plaintiff (Ms. Rollins) is entitled to production of the complete file of Defendant's certified public accountant, Dennis L. Dabney, CPA, which was produced at the hearing in this matter."

Was this information from Ted Rollins' CPA ever turned over, as ordered by a judge? Sherry Rollins states that it was not. That helped ensure that Ted Rollins' interests in a number of businesses, including St. James Capital LLC, would not be uncovered.

* Shelter--When a couple separates, one household becomes two, and courts must address issues related to "the former marital residence." In an order dated February 8, 2002, Judge Johnson stated that Sherry Rollins was entitled "to the undisturbed use, possession and occupancy of the former marital residence, and contents "were to remain undisturbed during the pendency of this action." In short, Ted Rollins was ordered to maintain payments on the mortgage and insurance for the family home.

Did he do that? Sherry Rollins said the mortgage went unpaid, and bank officials forced her and her daughters out of their home. That's when they fled to Alabama, where Sherry Rollins had family--and where Ted Rollins filed a divorce case against her that could not be heard under simple jurisdictional law, as expressed in Wesson v. Wesson, 628 So. 2d 953 (Ala. Civ. App., 1993).

* Legal expenses--In Alabama, Circuit Judge D. Al Crowson administered a monstrous cheat job to Sherry Rollins and her daughters. But in an order dated July 18, 2005, Crowson wrote: "Plaintiff [Ted Rollins] shall pay to Defendant the sum of Fifteen Thousand dollars ($15,000) with which to pay her attorneys, MaryLee Abele and Conrad Fowler, as and for a portion of the reasonable value of their services rendered in this cause."

Sherry Rollins states that she never received any funds to pay her attorneys. She also states that she has asked MaryLee Abele on multiple occasions, verbally and in writing, for a copy of her file from South Carolina. Sherry Rollins states that she paid for a copy of the original file and gave it to Abele to assist her in handling the Alabama action. The file apparently is Sherry Rollins' property, but Ms. Rollins states that Abele repeatedly has refused to produce a copy because she hasn't been paid for her services. Abele has not been paid, Ms. Rollins states, because Ted Rollins never produced the funds that were ordered by Judge Crowson.

Earlier this year, I sought to conduct a telephone interview with Ted Rollins regarding Rollins v. Rollins and his company, Campus Crest Communities. He stated that he would reply only to questions in writing. In a response to me dated March 8, 2011, Rollins stated that there was "more than a fair process" in his divorce case.

That raises this obvious question: How could the process have been fair when Ted Rollins repeatedly failed to turn over information, take actions, or pay funds, as ordered by the court?

I put that question, and others, to Ted Rollins in an e-mail last week. He has told me several times that he would be "more than happy" to respond to written questions. I've sent him five sets of written questions, including the ones from last week, and his only response has been to threaten me with a lawsuit.

Below is an e-mail I sent regarding violations of court orders in Rollins v. Rollins. I have received no answers to these questions:

Ted Rollins E Mail Court Orders

Monday, November 14, 2011

Will Penn State Scandal Finally Bring Child Sexual Abuse Into the Spotlight?

Jerry Sandusky and Joe Paterno

America has a history of sweeping stories about child sexual abuse out of the spotlight. But we already are seeing signs that the evolving Penn State scandal might be changing that.

Officials at The Citadel, another institution of "higher learning," revealed over the weekend that they had not adequately pursued allegations against a counselor at the school. Meanwhile, multiple news outlets are reporting that the Penn State scandal might expand to include charges that former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky helped line up boys for sexual activity with wealthy university donors.

How ugly could this get? Are Americans finally prepared to face an issue that more or less disappeared when reports about the Franklin Scandal surfaced in the late 1980s?

The Franklin Scandal involved a child prostitution ring that had origins at orphanages in Nebraska and reportedly made its way to the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. Investigative work by The Washington Times brought the story into the open. Craig J. Spence, a Republican lobbyist who reportedly arranged nocturnal tours for male prostitutes at the Reagan White House, was found dead in a room at the Boston Ritz Carlton in November 1989.

Former Nebraska State Senator John W. DeCamp, a Republican, wrote a book called The Franklin Cover-Up The BBC produced a documentary called Conspiracy of Silence, and it was to air on The Discovery Channel in May 1994. The program was pulled at the last minute, and the Franklin Scandal largely fell from view in the United states. (See video at the end of this post.)

Will America come to grips in 2011 with a horrifying subject that it chose to ignore in the 1980s and '90s? Some early signals indicate the answer might be yes. Consider this report from Saturday about troubling activities at The Citadel:

The Citadel released details on one of its alumni, Louis Neal "Skip" ReVille, who faces charges including criminal sexual conduct with a child.

In 2007, the college received an allegation that five years earlier, ReVille invited two campers at The Citadel Summer Camp into his room to watch pornography. They did not touch each other, but engaged in sexual activity, the college said. . . .

The Citadel, in Charleston, South Carolina, said a review of ReVille's records at the time revealed no other complaints, and his file included a clean background check. He was a highly respected cadet and denied the accusation, the college said.

Four years later, Reville faces various charges, including criminal sexual conduct and committing or attempting lewd acts on a minor. He was arrested late last month.

The Penn State scandal already has brought down iconic head football coach Joe Paterno. But Mark Madden, a Pennsylvania sports columnist and radio talk-show host, says the situation at PSU might get worse before it gets better. Madden broke a story in April 2011 that a grand jury was investigating allegations of sexual misconduct involving Jerry Sandusky and Penn State. Madden now says the story might grow to include charges that Sandusky "pimped out boys" for the pleasure of wealthy PSU donors. Madden says at least two journalists are looking into that angle. From a radio interview with Madden last week:

"I can give you a rumor and I can give you something I think might happen," Madden told John Dennis and Gerry Callahan. "I hear there's a rumor that there will be a more shocking development from the Second Mile Foundation--and hold on to your stomachs, boys, this is gross, I will use the only language I can--that Jerry Sandusky and Second Mile were pimping out young boys to rich donors. That was being investigated by two prominent columnists even as I speak."

Our nation has a history of abusing the weakest and most vulnerable among us--and it's not unusual for children to be targets, whether it involves sex or not. In fact, judges--those who stand atop our hallowed justice system--have been known to take advantage of children.

Remember the Kids for Cash Scandal of 2008? It involved Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, two judges in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania (Wilkes-Barre), who pleaded guilty to federal charges of accepting kickbacks from the co-owner and builder of two private, for-profit juvenile facilities. The judges took cash in return for contracting with the facilities and imposing harsh sentences on juveniles brought before their courts in order to ensure that the detention centers would be utilized.

How sick was this scheme? How far were two judges willing to go in order to make an alleged $2.9 million in kickbacks? From an article at the Web site of the Juvenile Law Center:

The conspiracy lasted from 2003 to 2008, involving as many as 6,500 juvenile cases and as many as 4,000 individual children. Over 50% of the children who appeared before Ciavarella did not have an attorney and 50 to 60% of these unrepresented children were placed outside their homes. Many of these children were sent to one or both of the two facilities involved in the alleged kickback scheme. The vast majority of children were charged with low-level misdemeanor offenses.

Perhaps the most complete account so far of the Penn State scandal was published over the weekend in the Harrisburg Patriot-News. The report states that opportunities to investigate and perhaps stop Sandusky's abusive actions go back at least to 1995. Ironically, that is one year after the Franklin Scandal documentary was pulled from The Discovery Channel. Reports the Harrisburg newspaper:

The earliest documented report of possible abuse at the hands of Sandusky is in 1995, when his now-legally adopted son was still a teenage foster child in his home.

The adoption file for Matt Sandusky, who had a different name at the time, contains letters of concern from his mother to children and youth officials and to a Centre County judge.

Matt’s biological mother, Debra Long, testified before the grand jury.

Matt, 33, is not one of the victims in the grand jury presentment, but he did testify before the grand jury.

Why did officials not act on concerns from Matt Sandusky's biological mother in 1995? The answer to the question is unclear, but Jerry Sandusky was a prominent coach in one of America's most respected college football programs. That probably explains why it took 16 years for the Penn State scandal to emerge. Also, it appears that Sandusky used gifts, threats, and connections to help keep his activities under wraps.

American elites have shown they can be creative when it comes to abusing children--and hiding evidence of their sordid activities. Perhaps the Penn State story will help cause scales to fall from the public's eyes--and bring justice to some elites who richly deserve it.

As sickening as the Penn State story already is--and it's likely to get worse--it probably will never reach the level of the Franklin Scandal. Here is the BBC investigative report that was pulled from The Discovery Channel in 1994:

Friday, November 11, 2011

What Is the Funniest Moment in Television History?

We could use a break from our usual tales of legal corruption. And that has me thinking about the funniest stuff I've ever seen on television.

Volumes have been written about TV's negative impact on society--and I even have been known to weigh in on that subject. But in a world of Ponzi schemes, corporate greed, political wimpiness, and university scandals, the boob tube helps promote mental health by providing, at least in a few instances, comedy for the ages.

When you need a break from everyday drudgery, does your mind turn to classic TV moments--the kind that make you laugh until milk comes out of your nose (assuming you are drinking milk)? Mine does, and at those moments, I give thanks for the writers, directors, and actors who bring us nuggets of brilliance.

My No. 1 moment probably would have to come from Scrubs, a series that we have touted many times on this blog. I can think of at least two dozen scenes from Scrubs that deserve consideration, but one that would have to be near the top involves two guys discussing a topic that is so awkward it's painful to watch--and hysterical.

Dr. John "J.D." Dorian (Zach Braff) has accidentally put himself in a position to view a penis belonging to his hospital nemesis, The Janitor (Neil Flynn). As a doctor, J.D. is obligated to tell The Janitor that he spotted a possible skin cancer, a melanoma, while viewing The Janitor's junk. Braff and Flynn deserve Emmys--perhaps Lifetime Achievement Awards--for this scene alone:

We can't leave this subject without mentioning at least two of many classic moments from Saturday Night Live. These are a little sad because they involve some major talents who no longer are with us. But I suspect many people still remember exactly where they were when they first saw these. First, is a Chippendale dance off between Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley. How they managed to keep straight faces during this is beyond me:

Patrick Swayze - Chippendale by tressage

Finally, we have "The Sinatra Group," featuring the late, great Phil Hartman as Frank Sinatra, moderating a panel discussion on cultural issues of the day. We have "The Chairman" telling Billy Idol (played to brilliant effect by Sting) that "I have chunks of guys like you in my stool." Talk about a line for the ages. Enjoy.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Abramoff Confirms That He Helped Turn Alabama Into a Political Cesspool

Republican felon Jack Abramoff has written a new book that appears to be long on titillation and short on details. "Casino Jack" seems to pull more punches than "Smokin' Joe" Frazier ever threw.

But while withholding more evidence than he provides, Abramoff confirms our worst fears: He helped soil our democracy in a way that almost certainly is unprecedented--and Alabama was one of his prime playgrounds.

How did he do it? Mainly by playing conservative Christians for fools.

The book is called "Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption from America's Most Notorious Lobbyist." And after reading it, even the least rational Alabamians are likely to understand the following:

* Bob Riley rose to the governorship on a wave of GOP criminality;

* Don Siegelman, indeed, was targeted for a political prosecution--partly to assuage Abramoff's clients, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians;

* Milton McGregor was targeted for a political prosecution in the ongoing Alabama bingo case--again to protect the Mississippi Choctaws.

The big loser in Abramoff's book, however, is the U.S. Department of Justice. We learn that the DOJ uncovered only a fraction of the criminal actions connected to Abramoff--or perhaps we should say the department acted on only a tiny portion of what it uncovered. In fact, the Abramoff "prosecution" now looks mostly like an exercise in political damage control--one that, so far, has helped protect Bob Riley and his henchmen in Alabama.

Most importantly, Abramoff indicates that the DOJ remains a dysfunctional mess under Barack Obama, with enough embedded Bushies and spineless Obamaphiles on the loose to pull off a charade like the Alabama bingo case.

In a sense, "Casino Jack" is at the heart of a story about simple mathematics. Mary Orndorff, of, explains the numbers for us:

Jack Abramoff helped his Indian gaming clients in Mississippi protect $400 million in annual revenue by spending $20 million of their money to defeat gambling expansions in Alabama, the convicted former lobbyist wrote in his new book.

Abramoff spent 3½ years in jail after pleading guilty to corruption-related charges, including bilking the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and others out of millions of dollars and bribing public officials in Washington, D.C.

The Choctaws, it turns out, made a pretty good investment in "Casino Jack." At least that's what Abramoff thinks--and he clearly doesn't give a damn about the lives and principles that were trampled along the way:

[Abramoff] said there were three main threats to his client: then-Gov. Don Siegelman's proposed lottery; dog track owner Milton McGregor's efforts to add gambling machines at his facilities; and the planned casino expansion of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

"Over the course of almost five years of waging this battle, we saved Choctaw's gaming market--which provided them with over $400 million a year in revenue," Abramoff wrote. . . . "It cost the tribe approximately $20 million to wage these battles, but the returns were worth it to them," he said. "Chief Martin called us the 'best slot machine' they had, and he was not exaggerating."

How is that for irony? Republicans are always touting "market solutions" to most any problem. But when the Choctaws were afraid to compete on the open market, GOP slime balls gladly turned to criminal acts in order to undermine possible opponents.

Abramoff devotes only four pages to his activities in Alabama. But Orndorff cuts to the chase about the GOP scheme in the Heart of Dixie:

The heart of the scheme was stealth--funneling money from gambling interests in Mississippi through nonprofits and into anti-gambling groups to help defeat the competition across the state line.

That's where Abramoff used right-leaning Christians as the ultimate political tools:

A 2005 investigation by the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee revealed documentation of the payments that Abramoff routed from the Mississippi Choctaws into Alabama. For example, the Christian Coalition of Alabama accepted $850,000 from the Americans for Tax Reform to help fight video poker legislation in 2000; and another $300,000 went from the anti-tax group to the Citizens Against Legalized Lottery, which was formed in 1999 to defeat Siegelman's lottery plan.

Abramoff wrote that conservative activist Ralph Reed, whom he enlisted to help on the Alabama anti-gambling campaign, didn't want his "co-religionists" to know the operation was financed with gambling money.

"It was obvious to me that the only way to stop Siegelman, MacGregor (sic) and the Poarch Creeks was to organize the Christians," Abramoff wrote. "Ralph could do this in his sleep."

Citizens Against Legalized Lottery, by the way, morphed into Citizens for a Better Alabama (CBA) in 2001 and played a leading role in fighting the Sweet Home Alabama plan that would have brought legalized, regulated gaming to our state. CBA is led by A. Eric Johnston, a shadowy Birmingham lawyer who made a failed run for the Alabama Supreme Court in 2010.

We can thank Jack Abramoff for confirming what many of us have suspected for some time: A. Eric Johnston's group is not really based on a moral objection to gambling; it's designed to protect Mississippi gaming interests.

Abramoff apparently pulls enough punches in his book to choke a Wall Street fat cat. Some of those pulled punches involve Bob Riley. Writes Orndorff:

Abramoff said he "war-gamed" the Alabama strategy with his partner Michael Scanlon, who also pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 20 months in prison.

The book does not mention the financial donations that Scanlon made to Republican groups and PACs that in turn made donations to Siegelman's anti-lottery Republican opponent, Bob Riley. Scanlon, who worked for Riley briefly in Congress in 1997, never made a direct personal donation to Riley. But Scanlon's public relations consulting firm gave more than $650,000 during that election cycle to four entities that contributed large sums to Riley's campaign.

It must have been hard for to publish those words, given that its news outlets have been among Riley's biggest cheerleaders.

Jack Abramoff clearly knows way more about Bob Riley and other Alabama bad actors than he is revealing in his book. The U.S. Department of Justice apparently is such a corrupt mess that it can't even begin to get at the truth.

Abramoff was featured on 60 Minutes Sunday night, in a piece titled "The Lobbyist's Playbook."  The segment largely ignored Abramoff's actions in Alabama, but it provides important insights into our broken democracy. The piece, reported by Lesley Stahl, is recommended viewing:

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

CEO Makes Company Disappear In the Midst of Divorce Proceedings

Ted Rollins

How can a multi-million dollar company vanish without a legal trace? Apparently it can happen when a CEO wants to ensure that the closely held business is not included among the marital assets in his divorce case.

That is one of many bizarre lessons to be taken from Rollins v. Rollins, the traveling divorce show that started in Greenville, South Carolina, and wound up in Shelby County, Alabama--contrary to common sense and all applicable law.

It appears that Ted Rollins, now the CEO of Charlotte-based Campus Crest Communities, did not want a closely held family business to get divided up in his divorce. So he took steps to ensure that his wife, Sherry Carroll Rollins, would flee with their two daughters to Alabama, where she had family. And that's when the company in question disappeared, meaning Ms. Rollins received nothing from a marital asset in which she had a clear legal stake.

We have focused on the jurisdictional change of scenery in Rollins, a shift that simply could not happen under Alabama law, as expressed best in a case styled Wesson v. Wesson, 628 So. 2d 953 (Ala. Civ. App., 1993). That's why Rollins stands as the worst case of courtroom abuse I've seen in the civil arena.

But oddities in the case hardly are limited to matters of jurisdiction. The virtual disappearance of a company called St. James Capital, LLC might be the strangest event of all. In fact, court documents indicate that a desire to keep St. James Capital under wraps might have been the reason the case shifted to Alabama in the first place.

I didn't think anything could top the cheat job Mrs. Schnauzer and I experienced at the Shelby Courthouse in Columbiana, Alabama, in a case that started thanks to our difficult neighbor with a criminal record. But I would have to say that Sherry Carroll Rollins can top our tale of legal woe. And who could have dreamed that she would wind up in the same courthouse where we got shafted?

You might say that St. James Capital (SJC) was the forerunner of Campus Crest Communities. Information about SJC is sketchy, but Ted Rollins reportedly started the company with his cousin, R. Randall Rollins of Atlanta. SJC was a real-estate development company, and as seems to be the case with most Rollins businesses, it apparently involved significant dollars.

Ted Rollins hardly is a financial lightweight. But his cousin, Randall Rollins, is among the heaviest of heavyweights. Randall Rollins is the chairman of Rollins, Inc., the company that operates Orkin Pest Control and a number of other profitable ventures. Randall's younger brother, Gary W. Rollins, is president and CEO of Rollins, Inc.

How profitable are the Rollins enterprises? In 2004, The Atlanta Business Chronicle compiled a list of the city's "Stock Market Superstars." At No. 5 on the list was Gary Rollins, with a stock worth of $584.9 million. Right behind him, at No. 6, was Randall Rollins, worth a cool $546.4 (By the way, the No. 4 spot, just ahead of the Rollins brothers, was occupied by a fellow named Ted Turner--worth $843.3 million.)

The same publication compiled a "Barons of Business" for Atlanta in 2005. Gary Rollins was ranked No. 3 on that list, and his stock wealth had soared to $791 million. Randall Rollins was No. 4, with stock wealth of $763.8 million. The Rollins brothers clearly are among the "1 percent" who have done quite well in the Age of Bush. And they are Ted Rollins' cousins.

Given Randall Rollins' track record, it's safe to say that a company he formed with Ted Rollins would be pretty successful. So how could that company, St. James Capital, disappear in the middle of Ted Rollins' divorce case?

We still are looking for answers to that question. But court documents make it clear that St. James Capital did indeed vanish while Rollins v. Rollins was litigated over about a seven-year period.

Sherry Rollins started the case in 2001 by filing for divorce in Greenville, South Carolina, where she and Ted Rollins lived with their daughters. What happened next? Here is how we described it in a previous post:

Sherry Rollins had sued for divorce in Greenville, South Carolina, where the family had lived, and adultery was one of the primary grounds she cited. A South Carolina judge had issued a temporary order that called for Ted Rollins to pay $3,355 a month in child support, $5,000 a month in alimony, and continue paying the mortgage, taxes, and insurance on the marital home.

When the mortgage went unpaid, Sherry Rollins and her children were forced from their home. Mrs. Rollins fled to Alabama, where her two sons from a previous marriage were living.

Why would Ted Rollins disobey a court order that required him to make sure that Sherry Rollins' right to the "use, possession, and occupancy of the former marital residence" was to remain "undisturbed during the pendency of this action"? The original support order of $8,355 a month was reduced to $4,500 a month, so that must not have been the motive.

Perhaps the answer is found in a contempt order from a South Carolina judge, dated October 17, 2002. (See the full order at the end of this post.) Family Court Judge Robert N. Jenkins Sr. wrote:

I find that Defendant is 40 years of age and in good health. He is employed as President of St. James Capital, LLC, a real estate development company headquartered in Greenville, South Carolina. Defendant testified that the company is involved in a substantial project. Defendant is a graduate of Duke, with an MBA. He lives in his cousin's family compound in the guest house in Atlanta, Georgia, free of charge. He travels, sometimes on private jet aircraft. His family is extremely wealthy. Historically, this family included in their lifestyle funds and benefits provided by Defendant's family, which appear to be available when Defendant wants them for his needs but become unavailable when they are needed for Plaintiff.

Judge Jenkins gave Ted Rollins a pretty stern rebuke, making it clear he was not buying what Mr. Rollins was selling. In 2003, just a few months after this order was issued, Sherry Rollins was forced to flee from her home to Alabama.

By the time Ted Rollins got the divorce case shifted to Shelby County, Alabama, his economic circumstances had mysteriously changed. According to a sworn child-support document in Alabama, Ted Rollins' only income was the $50,000.04 he made working for Reynolds Mortgage Company of Brentwood, Tennessee. There was no mention of St. James Capital.

Ted Rollins's final alimony and child support obligations were based on his declared salary from Reynolds Mortgage, and that's why Sherry Rollins and her two daughters now qualify for food stamps in Alabama.

Under Alabama law, the following items are considered marital assets to be included in the property division of a divorce case:

* Marital home/marital estate
* Vacation home
* Family owned business
* Business investments
* Pension plans
* 401k plans
* Stocks and bonds
* Inheritance

St. James Capital almost certainly would have qualified as a marital asset to which Sherry Rollins had a legal stake. So what happened to the company? Who pulled what strings to make it disappear? In the age of Wall Street greed do corporate types regularly hide their assets in divorce cases? Do big-time law firms, making big-time fees, help them get away with it?

Is it common for this kind of scam to be pulled in Alabama courts? How many citizens in our state fall victim to this sort of judicially sanctioned fraud?

We will be seeking answers to those questions--and more.

Ted Rollins Contempt Order