Friday, April 14, 2017

Finding of "no probable cause" against Rebekah Mason suggests ethics commission is part of scheme to oust Bentley but keep greater wrongdoing under cover

Rebekah Caldwell Mason
The Alabama Ethics Commission has found "no probable cause" that Rebekah Caldwell Mason, adviser and mistress to former Gov. Robert Bentley, violated state ethics laws. The decision adds to the growing body of evidence that the process leading to Bentley's resignation on Monday was a sham -- "fix" would be another fitting word -- designed only to remove an embarrassing governor from office, but provide no justice for the citizens of Alabama.

The commission's inexplicable finding suggests the Bentley/Mason sex scandal is far worse than the public knows, and it likely involves far more powerful individuals than the public realizes. The finding also indicates there is hard evidence of criminal actions by Bentley, Mason, and others, but the commission doesn't have the stomach to look into it. Specifically, the commission appears to be participating in a cover-up to protect a Republican Party brand that has been riddled by corruption in the past couple of years.

State Auditor Jim Zeigler filed an ethics complaint against Mason on March 25, 2016, and received notice of the "no probable cause" finding in a letter dated Wednesday (April 12, 2017) from Thomas Allbritton, executive director of the ethics commission. One wonders how Allbritton wrote that letter with a straight face.

Here's how described Zeigler's complaint in an article published roughly one year ago:

Zeigler said he filed a report with the state Ethics Commission to determine "whether Gov. Bentley and Mason are using state property in furtherance of their personal relationship, and if they have used their position to interfere with an attorney general's investigation."

In his report to State Ethics Commission Executive Director Thomas Albritton, Zeigler cited the audiotape in saying that it was "apparent that Mrs. Mason and Gov. Bentley have been using state property and resources in furtherance of their personal relationship." He was referring to the governor mentioning that "Wanda's desk" would have to be moved down the hall.

Zeigler also alleged that Mason was violating the law because she has never registered as a lobbyist -- which he claims should have been done if she's being paid by a third party and not the state. If she was considered a state official, Zeigler contended, then Mason would be violating the law by receiving private funds.

As was recently reported at the Montgomery Advertiser, "Under state law, the Alabama Ethics Commission acts as a grand jury when a public official faces accusations of breaking the state's ethics law. The commission cannot press charges but can find probable cause and refer cases to the Alabama attorney general or a district attorney -- usually the one in Montgomery County -- for prosecution. Testimony and deliberations take place in private, but votes are public."

An old joke in legal circles is that a "grand jury could indict a ham sandwich." In other words, the bar for probable cause is extremely low, as Bentley attorney William Athanas stated after the ethics commission found probable cause on four counts against his client:

"It’s a finding of probable cause, which is one of the lowest legal standards we apply in these cases," he said. "We certainly disagree there was evidence to support a probable cause finding. We definitely disagree there was enough evidence to support a finding beyond a cause of reasonable doubt."

The statement about reasonable doubt is an effort to muddy the waters. That standard applies to juries in criminal trials, but it has no connection to the ethics commission, which must find only probable cause. There is enough probable cause against Mason to sink a battleship in Mobile Bay. That the commission could not find probable cause suggests it wasn't trying very hard.

A few issues to consider:

*  Our second report on the Bentley/Mason scandal showed the governor's campaign had spent more than $400,000 with a company owned by Mason, his mistress. Bentley hired Mason's husband, Jon, to a state position that had paid him more than $390,000. That doesn't constitute probable cause of an ethics or campaign-finance violation? We're to believe Rebekah Mason had no knowledge of how her husband landed his state job or took no actions to ensure that he filled the job? Don't make me laugh.

* In our third report on the scandal, we showed the Masons had received almost $1 million in government-related payments since the beginning of the Bentley administration in 2011. During a chunk of this time, Rebekah Mason was conducting an extramarital affair with Bentley -- and taking actions to keep it under wraps, according to published reports. No probable cause of unethical activity? Don't make me laugh.

*  According to multiple published reports, Bentley allowed Mason to serve as the state's "de facto" governor. And a report at USA Today showed that former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) chief Spencer Collier alleged both Bentley and Mason used state time and resources to pursue the affair. According to former spokesperson Jennifer Ardis, Mason's clout caused regular disruption of operations in the governor's office. "Nothing could be done in the office without Mason's sign-off," Ardis said. No probable cause? Don't make me laugh.

* A House Judiciary Report showed that Bentley, Mason, and others failed to turn over requested documents -- emails, texts, phone and financial records -- to investigators. They also failed to appear for interviews under oath. Did the Alabama Ethics Commission, deliberating in private, even seek such information? We've seen no evidence that it did. Again, no probable cause? Don't make me laugh.

* The Montgomery Advertiser yesterday reported as follows:
In a letter to State Auditor Jim Zeigler dated Wednesday, Ethics Commission Director Tom Albritton said the Ethics Commission did not find probable cause that Mason violated the Alabama Ethics Act.

Albritton’s letter did not specify the reasons why. It said the Ethics Commission received the results of the investigation April 5, the same day commissioners heard evidence against Bentley.

Did the commission conduct any independent investigation of Mason? It doesn't sound like it. Was the complaint against her completely intertwined with the Bentley case? The answer appears to be yes.

How sleazy is all this? It suggests the ethics commission itself needs to be investigated. Attorney Donald Watkins summed it up well at his Facebook page:

In the same April 5, 2017, Ethics Commission meeting that resulted in a referral of Bentley’s case to state prosecutors on four felony ethics violations, the Commission also dismissed the case against Rebekah Mason. According to investigators, they could not find any evidence that Mason had misused state property.

They did not look hard enough, if they looked at all. Rebekah Mason operated her public relations firm, RCM Communications, Inc., while working full-time as Bentley’s communications director. Rebekah also conducted RCM’s business from the governor’s office and used state resources to further her private business interests.

Also, Bentley made sure that Rebekah had unfettered access to state trooper transportation, the Governor’s mansion (at all times of the night), the state airplane, the Winton Blount mansion in Montgomery (which was donated to the state), and to any other state resource she needed to make herself fully available to the Governor for his personal and sexual pleasure. After all, Rebekah, in Bentley’s mind, was the real First Lady of Alabama.

Watkins goes on to use the "F word" to describe the ethics commission's actions:

The Commission's disposition of Rebekah’s case has the feel and smell of a political “fix”. Through back channels, Bentley apparently signaled that he would resign as governor if no charges were brought against Rebekah and if he could dispose of his felony violations by pleading guilty to two no-jail time misdemeanors. The state caved in and agreed. Bentley’s exit from the governorship played out Monday just as the governor had demanded.

This is why Robert Bentley was smiling in his mugshot. He hoodwinked them all. The only people who were not aware of: (a) the Ethics Commission’s accommodation “fix” of Rebekah’s case, (b) the prosecutor’s “sweetheart” plea deal with the governor, and (c) the “sellout” of the people’s right to the fair administration of justice, were the citizens of Alabama who are thirsty for tough law enforcement in public corruption cases. Once again, they got shafted in this debacle. Nobody gave a damn about their rights as crime victims.

As a practical matter, how does a commission find four felony counts against Bentley and none against Mason, his clear accomplice? Isn't that like indicting Clyde and letting Bonnie off the hook completely? Isn't that a sign of a commission that is wildly compromised, one the public should not trust?


Anonymous said...

This blows my mind. This woman and her husband raided the state treasury, while she provided "service" to the governor. Gross corruption.

Anonymous said...

A real investigation probably would reveal unsavory acts by Alabama Power, U of Alabama, and God knows who else. Must not go there.

Anonymous said...

This is white privilege at its worst. Can you imagine the stink if a black politician did what Bentley did?

Anonymous said...

Mason is a typical whitey. She thinks her s--t don't stink.

Anonymous said...

Donald Watkins wrote in a comment on his FB page that he still thinks the feds will nail these criminals.

legalschnauzer said...

I hope he's right. It will take feds from outside of Alabama. The justice mechanism in Alabama is broken beyond immediate repair, and it has been for years.

Anonymous said...

Didn't one of the people interviewed for the impeachment report say something about Paul Bryant Jr. and Bentley?

legalschnauzer said...

@12:27 --

Yes, Linda Adams said she told Bentley that Paul Bryant Jr. was "using him." I made a note of that in my research. Will see if I can find it quickly and copy here.

legalschnauzer said...

Here it is, from p. 86 of the report:

About a week later, on routine business in Governor Bentley’s office, Governor Bentley asked Adams if Collier had come to see her on election night. She replied: “Yes, sir, he did, and I don’t appreciate it.” Governor Bentley said: “I sent him.” Adams asked Governor Bentley:
“Do you not trust me?” Governor Bentley replied: “Oh, no, no, no Linda, it’s nothing like that.” Adams says that Governor Bentley told her that his family was turning against him and that Paul Bryant, Clay Ryan, and Bill O’Connor were “using” him. Adams ended the conversation by telling Governor Bentley, “Governor, there are a lot of people using you.”

e.a.f. said...

No probable cause. OMG. No price is to great to pay to keep the Republican brand alive and well in Alabama. Certainly an investigation into R. Mason would have revealed a tad more than the Republican party wanted voters to know. The Family Values crowd would have had a heart attack if Mason and Bentley's "back scratching" became public knowledge. Too bad the former Mrs. Bentley doesn't give an interview or two to enlighten the masses.

It is doubtful the federal government will conduct any investigation. we know who the head of that is these days, one Jeff Sessions. He too will not want this mess to be made public. Jeff is very busy wanting to fill the private prisons of the country, even if as of some time in Feb. he still had stock in some of them. It is my conclusion the Republicans wouldn't know what conflict of interest even if it hit them square between the eyes, because if it benefits one of them or theirs there is no conflict. its just good politics and good business.

The only thing close to an investigation would be if a group of citizens conducted one and published their findings. of course I'm sure that group of citizens might find themselves getting a whole lot of unwanted attention.

Anonymous said...

How can you find four felonies against Bentley and zero against Mason? They clearly were accomplices. Makes no sense.

legalschnauzer said...

@4:14 --

Great point. It's sort of like indicting Clyde and letting Bonnie off the hook totally.

Anonymous said...

How much dirt do Jon and Rebekah Mason have on the University of Alabama? A bunch would be my guess. I think that's why they are being treated with kid gloves, so far.

legalschnauzer said...

Gee, what if Bentley scandal somehow touched on PBJ, Nick Saban and Crimson Tide football? Now, that really would be serious.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't the disgraced former governor still have one of his pups serving on the Board of Directors at Bryant Bank?

Not there would be anything wrong with something like that.

Actually, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the disgraced former governor gets hisself a position on the wingnut welfare rolls at University of Alabama or one of the associated bidnesses. Maybe Becky and John can make it another threesome. Kind of like Jo Bonner getting an offer so good he had to quit six months into his term! I don't remember Bentley had anything to say about wasting a few million on the resulting special election.

legalschnauzer said...

@5:50 --

Gov. Bentley winding up at UA is an interesting idea. Wonder if Cooper Shattuck might wind up back there, too. At last report, John Mark Bentley was a VP at Bryant Bank. Paul Bentley, as I recall, was the son most often mentioned in the impeachment report, the one who had a copy of the tape and was highly pissed at his dad.

What do you think Linda Adams meant by Paul Bryant Jr. "using" the governor? Think she also mentioned Clay Ryan, a lawyer from Maynard Cooper, and a third guy. Hmmm . . .

Nobody didn't do nothing but UA still smells said...

Part one:

Check out:

"Wendell Ray Lewis - longtime security chief and sometimes confidante to Gov. Robert Bentley - today filed suit against the governor, revealing sordid details about Bentley's relationship with former aide Rebekah Mason"


"Lewis claimed Clay Ryan, a "fixer" for the governor, asked him if he would be interested in the job of head of security for Alabama Power Co. Then Ryan "asked Lewis how he intended to respond if and when questions started flowing about the governor. Another honest answer from Lewis. Another no call back." A power company spokesman said no one in a decision-making role at the company had any knowledge of the offer."

"Shortly after the August 5 intervention, Governor Bentley told ALEA Secretary Spencer Collier that he believed Heather Hannah had been responsible for making the recordings. He ordered Collier to find out whether there were criminal statutes that applied to Hannah’s suspected activity. He told Collier to be prepared to arrest Hannah if the tapes were released publicly.

Collier then went to his ALEA counsel, Deputy Attorney General Jason Swann, and gave him a factual hypothetical about covert recording, and asked him to research the law to determine the applicability of any criminal statutes to the hypothetical. Swann provided Collier with copies of the relevant eavesdropping statute and discussed the law with him. Sometime later, Collier confided to Swann that the research he had asked him to do related to Governor Bentley and said “we’re looking into it.”

On August 6, 2014, attorney Clay Ryan called Ray Lewis and asked to meet with him about the recording and who had it. The two met in a coffee shop across from the Renaissance Hotel in Montgomery. Lewis told Ryan that he thought Hannah might have the tapes.

Clay Ryan met with Heather Hannah soon after at a Panera Bread restaurant in Birmingham. Following that meeting, Clay Ryan called Collier and told him that he believed that Hannah had the tapes. Ray Lewis was in Collier’s office when Collier spoke with Ryan on the phone. Collier said that he told Ryan to stay out of official law enforcement business. Collier said that he told Governor Bentley to leave Heather Hannah alone. Collier says that Governor Bentley denied asking Ryan to meet with Hannah.

On September 14, 2015 the University of Alabama System announced that Clay Ryan was named UA System Vice Chancellor for Government Affairs.

In the summer of 2015 SBI Director Gene Wiggins called Special Agent Scott Lee of the SBI Agricultural and Rural Crimes Unit (ARCU) about conducting “special investigations” for Secretary Collier. Lee met with Collier and Gov. Bentley and Bentley asked him to investigate Heather Hannah.

According to his later testimony to the ALEA Integrity Unit Lee said that he told the Governor, “And I said, you know, at this point, I don’t know what the details are, but I just want you to understand that there have been politicians, as well as governors that have been prosecuted for using state police for personal reasons. I told him and the Governor, I won’t be used as a threat; I won’t be used as a harassment tool, that if I open a criminal investigation, then I work it to the end. There is no gray area.” I made it clear that a criminal investigation is one thing, but just looking at this trying to find out who got the recordings and for them not to release them, there’s a gray area there that we don’t need to cross.

Lee was then told not to proceed with the investigation. He eventually would leave ALEA."

Anonymous said...

What if somebody was pulling "Home Wrecky Becky's" strings from behind a curtain? What if she didn't just stumble into an affair with "Luv Guv," but someone helped make it happen, to develop leverage over Bentley? Maybe someone even paid her to get close to the guv, and she did, and it worked. What information was exchanged during their "pillow talk"?

Did someone at U of Alabama set this all up? Is that what Linda Adams meant by PBJ, Clay Ryan, and others "using" Gov. Bentley? Were they actually "extorting" him?

The Masons just happened to choose Bentley's church and just happened to wind up in his Sunday School class?

legalschnauzer said...

@8:26 --

You are on a very interesting line of thinking. You ask a bunch of good questions, and here is another: How did the University of Alabama benefit during the Bentley years? Did some of those benefits develop because of RCM's affair with Luv Guv Bentley?

Anonymous said...

Part two was originally posted in the wrong place.

Goes with part one above.

"Part two

The UA System, which already stepped in and ground its toe into the faculty, students, and supporters of UAB, has hired the lawyer who UAB agreed to pay $295 an hour to help UAB President Ray Watts muddle through the storm of controversy he created.

You know what to say, UAB.

Thank you Mr. Witt. May we have another.

Ryan will also serve as special deputy counsel for the UA System and Vice President for Governmental Affairs for the UAB Health System. System spokeswoman Kellee Reinhart said she did not yet know what Ryan will be paid.


Ryan has worked at Maynard, Cooper & Gale, where he chairs the Governmental and Regulatory Affairs practice group, according to the release.

He has also come to represent a part of the University System that UAB supporters loathe. He has been blamed by UAB supporters for everything from covering up Watts' mistakes, to blocking pro-UAB legislation and impeding the ability of Coach Bill Clark to get a new contract.

"The Bentleys' Divorce Proceedings Are Now Cloaked In Secrecy

The Public will have to get the details of Governor Robert Bentley's secret love affair from our Facebook news team. This morning, a Tuscaloosa court judge entered an order sealing the divorce records from public view. The Governor and First Lady filed a joint motion a half-hour earlier stating that Governor Bentley “holds a prominent office in the state of Alabama, and it would be in the parties’ best interest that the public not be able to access the record in this divorce action.”

The judge, Ms. Elizabeth Hamner, was appointed to the Tuscaloosa Circuit Court bench by Governor Bentley in 2011 to fill the unexpired term of a retiring judge. She ran unopposed for the position in 2012 and won. Her husband Patrick is a senior management executive at Bryant Bank, along with John Mark Bentley, one of the Governor's sons. Bentley and Paul Bryant, Jr., serve together on the University of Alabama board of trustees.

Legal observers are surprised that Judge Hamner did not recuse herself from hearing this case due to her political relationship with Governor Bentley and her husband's ongoing working relationship with Paul Bryant, Jr., and John Mark Bentley."

April 14, 2017 at 7:15 PM

Anonymous said...

Ethics commission?


The joke is on the taxpayers and citizens of Alabama who are dumb enough to vote for these crooks and kooks.

Anonymous said...

Bently and friends are leeches on the butt of Alabama!

Anonymous said...