an FBI investigation into possible use of BP oil-spill funds for personal gain in Mississippi.
Balch partner Joel Gilbert helped prepare a contract that called for Robinson to fight U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) efforts to clean up a Superfund site in North Birmingham, according to a recent report at al.com. Another Balch partner, Teri T. Wyly, is connected to a BP-related contract with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) that has attracted FBI attention, according to a report Tuesday at the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.
On top of that, the Superfund scandal reportedly has ensnared U.S. Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL), and with that story reaching high heat, Strange's one-time campaign manager and mistress, Jessica Medeiros Garrison, left her "of counsel" position at . . . Balch and Bingham. Then, as the Strange story broke, Garrison's social-media profile mostly went dark. Hmm . . .
The Mississippi investigation is focused on Trudy Fisher, former DEQ director, and Amy Whitten, an attorney and private contractor involved in the disbursement of BP funds. From the Clarion-Ledger story by reporter Anna Wolfe:
In the three years since Director Trudy Fisher's resignation, federal investigators have looked into DEQ's activities under her leadership. The probe looks at contracts granted by DEQ in an attempt to determine whether Fisher personally benefited from them, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the investigation, including several people who have been interviewed by the FBI.
How does Balch and Bingham enter the picture? Wolfe explains:
Under Fisher, private contractor and attorney Amy Whitten reaped nearly $2 million in DEQ contracts, either directly with the agency or through subcontracts with law firm Balch and Bingham. Whitten, a well-known state contractor, had worked with a number of agencies and secured four previous DEQ contracts before Fisher took over the agency. . . .
|BP oil spill in Mississippi
Fisher, 57, and Whitten, 63, headed initial damage assessment efforts in Mississippi, Fisher as the federal representative for the state and Whitten as the alternate.
Heavily redacted financial records from Balch and Bingham are part of the FBI inquiry. Writes Wolfe:
Fisher announced her resignation in May 2014. This came just one week after her agency's wholesale redaction of public records came under fire during a Hinds County Chancery Court hearing. DEQ blacked out hundreds of pages of Balch and Bingham and Whitten invoices totaling roughly $6 million.
Purchases included first-class airfare for Fisher and Whitten at $1,774 per ticket in July 2012, as detailed on an invoice from Whitten to Balch and Bingham. The exact date, reason for and destination of their trip was not included.
Balch and Bingham attorney Teri Wyly, who led the firm's DEQ contract, said last week that she remembers taking two trips with Whitten and Fisher that July — one to San Antonio for a meeting with other state restoration leaders and one to Atlanta to meet with BP representatives. It was the first possible explanation given for the travel in three years of inquiries.
At least two partners at Balch and Bingham are in the cross hairs of federal investigators? That suggests the Birmingham legal community could be in for an upheaval like it has never seen.