|Luther Strange and Jessica Garrison|
The scandal already has ensnared former State Rep. Oliver Robinson (D-Birmingham), who agreed to plead guilty last week to bribery, conspiracy, and other federal charges. John Archibald, a columnist for al.com, wrote yesterday that the scandal could go way beyond Robinson, perhaps unmasking the law firms/lobbyists (Balch and Bingham) and corporate entities (Drummond Coal, Alabama Power, etc.) who have been at the center of Alabama's toxic political environment for decades.
Strange's connection helps bring the story close to home for your humble blogger. For one, Strange is a defendant in a pending federal lawsuit over the wrongful foreclosure on our home of 25 years in Birmingham. He likely will be added as a defendant in a second pending federal lawsuit, regarding my unlawful arrest and incarceration in Shelby County.
Jessica Medeiros Garrison, Strange's one-time campaign manager and mistress, is lead defendant in "The House Case" -- and where did she work until recently? That would be Balch and Bingham, the downtown Birmingham law firm that seems to be up to its neck in the Superfund scandal.
How did Garrison, a relatively young attorney with thin credentials, obtain an "of counsel" position at Balch and Bingham? Why does she no longer appear on Balch's roster of attorneys? How did she come to purchase an $835,000 house last year from an Alabama Power executive? How is Garrison paying for her snazzy Mountain Brook digs, now that she is out at Balch and Bingham, the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), and the Rule of Law Defense Fund (RLDF), which once seemed to be her main sources of gainful employment?
On a personal level, did Garrison and Strange engage in criminal behavior related to the glorified theft of our house, perhaps determined to make sure I was not in Alabama to report on the superfund scandal when it bubbled to the surface? Were they also involved in criminal behavior related to my unlawful incarceration, perhaps in conjunction with their political cohorts -- Bill Pryor, Jeff Sessions, Rob Riley, and other GOP luminaries? Were they connected to our unlawful eviction, which seems driven by someone's desire to make sure we stayed in Missouri, and left my wife, Carol, with a shattered left arm -- courtesy of thuggish Greene County deputies?
We will be looking for an answer to those questions. But, for now, let's focus on Luther Strange's connections to the superfund scandal. Writes Josh Moon, of APR:
State Rep. John Rogers told federal investigators that he was approached by executives from Drummond Coal and then-Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange and offered what Rogers considered a bribe if he would lead the state’s and Drummond’s efforts against the EPA’s cleanup of a superfund pollution site in north Birmingham, a source close to Rogers told APR.
Asked about the allegations, Rogers declined to confirm them, saying he didn’t want to talk about it “yet, because it’s too volatile.”
“I don’t want to get into that stuff right now,” Rogers said. “You have to be careful about that. These people are dangerous. I’ll keep that to myself until a later time.”
"These people are dangerous." What a curious thing for John Rogers to say. My response? Tell me about it. Here is more from Josh Moon:
According to the source, Rogers said he was offered control of a “super PAC or non-profit” into which Drummond Coal and other entities would contribute money in exchange for Rogers speaking out against the 35th Avenue superfund site and working to keep the EPA from assigning the area to the National Priority List.
Designating the area in north Birmingham a superfund site allowed the EPA to do testing in the area and start a process of identifying “potentially responsible parties” that caused the environmental damage. Levels of toxins in that 35th Avenue area have so far exceeded acceptable levels that the top layers of hundreds of residents’ yards have been removed.
Under EPA rules, responsible parties are on the hook for the cost of cleanup at superfund sites, meaning Drummond Coal, Alagasco, ABC Coke, U.S. Pipe and KMAC were potentially on the hook for around $20 million for the site cleanup.
As for John Archibald, he says the superfund scandal could be much bigger than most Alabamians realize. He says it could become "Alabama's Watergate":
This -- this is far bigger that Robinson. Or it could be. In his indictment, the feds point to Balch and Bingham and Drummond Co. as bribers. If proven, it'll be a body check to the very systems that run Alabama politics and fund the ugliest parts of them.
It just depends on what Robinson will spill to keep his sentence to a minimum.
It depends on what the unnamed co-conspirators at Drummond and Balch are willing to say, and whether the actions outlined in the federal documents can be quarantined.
Because these players -- and those they associate with -- provide the grease that makes Alabama run.
That grease, of course, does not make Alabama run well. The grease just makes everything it touches slimy. This now has national and international implications. Lawyers from Balch and Bingham are closely aligned with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, now at the heart of the Trump/Russia scandal, which could bring down a presidency. Writes Archibald:
Balch and Bingham is one of Alabama's most powerful firms. You can't follow a political story -- as the recent drama at the state board of education shows -- without tripping on a Balch lawyer or lobbyist.
Gov. Kay Ivey just appointed Balch lawyer Will Sellers - a longtime confidante - to the Alabama Supreme Court. And several Balch lawyers sit in positions to advise U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Balch and Drummond both contribute heavily to political campaigns inside and out of Alabama. Each gave more than $215,000 in last year's federal election cycle, which was enough to put them in the state's top 10 donors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
But this is not just about those tainted by the Oliver Robinson scandal. This is about the way political money is spent.
Both Balch and Drummond have substantial ties to another Top 10 giver -- Southern Company, parent to Alabama Power.
No matter how ugly the superfund scandal gets, it could prove to be the best thing that has happened to Alabama in a long time -- especially if it pulls the mask off slime balls like Luther Strange, Jessica Garrison, Jeff Sessions, and a few of the state's many corrupt lawyers. Write Archibald:
What is clear is that money from entities supportive of coal and power - and other interests -- have flowed through Balch and into the hands of those who change opinions. Balch has employed . . . Matrix group, which worked with entities such as the Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy (PACE), which lobbied hard in 2013 to prevent the Public Service Commission from holding formal utility rate hearings -- which Alabama Power opposed.
Understand, Alabama. What happened in north Birmingham is not about Birmingham. What happened to Robinson is not just about Robinson.
Alabama's political status quo is at risk. For the first time in a long time.
That's a good thing.