Monday, January 11, 2016

Did issues tied to affair with Rebekah Caldwell Mason prompt Gov. Robert Bentley to spend $24,000 with Montgomery law firm known for criminal defense?

Gov. Robert Bentley and Rebekah
Caldwell Mason
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley in 2015 spent more than $24,000 in campaign funds with a Montgomery law firm noted for criminal-defense work. Were Bentley's payments to the Melton Espy and Williams firm driven by issues arising from his extramarital affair with aide Rebekah Caldwell Mason?

News of the affair broke on August 31, 2015, shortly after First Lady Dianne Bentley filed for a divorce that ended a 50-year marriage. Reports then showed that Robert Bentley's 2014 campaign paid more than $400,000 to Mason's company, RCM Communications, of Tuscaloosa--and Bentley had hired Mason's husband for a state position that paid more than $390,000 over a five-year period.

In short, public records showed that Rebekah Mason and her husband made more than $1 million during the Bentley administration. According to an report about Bentley's latest campaign-finance report, another $76,000 went to Mason's company in 2015. (See campaign-finance report at the end of this post.)

Robert Bentley is not the only one, in the wake of his divorce, to hire a lawyer with a history of criminal-defense work. Rebekah Mason reportedly has hired Bobby Segall, of the Montgomery firm Copeland Franco.

The Alabama Council for Excellence in Government (ACEGOV) might be at the heart of the criminal concerns. Here's how we explained it in a post dated September 22, 2015:

What is the most likely source of criminal exposure for Mason and Bentley? Our sources say it is the Alabama Council for Excellent Government, also known as ACEGOV, a nonprofit organization with ties to three of the most powerful entities in the state--Alabama Power, the University of Alabama System, and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, who have tried to arrange a monopoly on state gaming in exchange for assistance with the state budget crisis.

Where does ACEGOV get its money? The council is not terribly forthcoming with that information, but in a general sense, the funds reportedly come from Bentley's leftover campaign resources. More specifically, our sources say, the money comes mostly from Alabama Power and the Poarch Creeks--and a significant amount of it has been funneled to Governor Bentley's mistress, Rebekah Caldwell Mason.

Cooper Shattuck, a former legal adviser for Bentley, formed ACEGOV in February before moving on to become general counsel for the University of Alabama System.

Birmingham attorney Donald Watkins, via reporting on his Facebook page, shined additional light on ACEGOV, calling it a "slush fund" for Mason. Here is how Watkins described it:

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.

Watkins posted those words on September 9, 2015. Bentley's latest campaign-finance report shows that on October 15, 2015, barely one month later, he paid $24,758 to the Melton Espy firm.

Is that a coincidence? We doubt it.


Anonymous said...

Unreal is the only way to describe Alabama politics. Unrelated to this story, but did you see the news re: Republicans wanting to remove Hubbard as speaker? Might make for an interesting column if you can find out who is behind this...and why!

Anonymous said...

Bentley's press conferences are a ventriloquist act. Bentley's mouth moves,and his staffer's words come out. "Elmer", from the old western movies,was a famous dummy.Another famous Elmer,was "Uncle Elmer" the pro-wrestler. He wrestled using a lot of stage names:The Convict:The Giant Rebel:Playboy Frazier:The Country Plowboy,and many more ,that represent most of Alabama's politicians.
Bentley had a beautiful Ballerina rose growing at his window,but he crushed it, sneaking out for a romp in a field of wildflowers.By not growing up, Bentley is left weeping,similar to the Camperdown Elm.
The HMS Camperdown was commissioned in 1889. The USS Bentley is now recommissioned the HMS Camperdown.
The pirates aboard the Hms Victoria,fearing that justice was near,resorted to blackbirding to snooker their pursuers.They had brought with them,a knighted hostage,disguised as a pirate.The pirates surrended to Edward of Woodstock.Edward instantly recognized the hostage as a distinguished diplomat,and granted all the pirates diplomatic imunity.

Anonymous said...

Big time reporting here, LS. wasn't about to report this. Props!

Anonymous said...

Bentley is getting pretty close to $25,000 with the Espy firm, so let's use that figure for our math. Let's assume Joe Espy charges $500 an hour (he might charge more than that; doubt he charges less). That means Espy spent about 50 hours on Bentley's legal issues, in just over two months time. Those sound like fairly serious legal issues to me.

legalschnauzer said...

Your math adds an interesting perspective on things, @3:35. It tells me that Bentley thinks he could be in trouble. And if the Espy firm spent that much time on it, they probably agree.

Anonymous said...

Wonder how much RCM has spent with Bobby Segall.

Anonymous said...

Bentley might go down as the worst governor in Alabama history. That would be quite a feat.