Monday, March 19, 2018

Luther Strange's filthy fingerprints appear to be all over the Birmingham Superfund scandal -- plus an attempted financial hit on lawyer Burt Newsome

Luther Strange and former Balch lawyer Jessica Garrison
New evidence suggests former Alabama attorney general and U.S. Sen. Luther Strange was involved in a criminal conspiracy to help the large Balch Bingham law firm obtain the bank-collections business of a solo attorney in the Birmingham area, according to (See here and here.) Not surprisingly, Strange's one-time campaign manager and mistress, Jessica Medeiros Garrison, is involved in this sordid story.

Burt Newsome has built his collections practice into a lucrative enterprise, so lucrative that Balch Bingham apparently tried to steal it -- with help from Luther Strange. Newsome was hit with a sham criminal charge -- where have we heard this before? -- and evidence indicates Strange tried to make it stick.

This all grows from an report last week that Strange (and Trump attorney general Jeff Sessions) pushed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) not to designate the North Birmingham Superfund site for National Priorities List (NPL) status, which would have required polluters (Drummond Co. and others) to pay millions in clean-up costs.

As for Sessions, a report at Mother Jones and the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) features documents that show Sessions' office was deeply involved in trying to thwart the clean-up effort. From an article at Mother Jones:

As Alabama’s junior senator, Jeff Sessions was far more involved than previously known in helping two of his top contributors derail a federal environmental cleanup effort, according to records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Mother Jones and the Project on Government Oversight. The stalled cleanup is now at the center of a federal bribery case spearheaded by the Justice Department, posing a serious conflict of interest for Sessions, who is now attorney general. Yet there is no indication that Sessions has taken any steps to recuse himself from this matter.

Last fall, the Justice Department indicted a top executive at Drummond Coal and two partners in the influential Birmingham-based law firm of Balch Bingham, who were representing the Alabama-based company. Prosecutors allege the men paid off an Alabama state representative, Democrat Oliver Robinson, as they undertook an all-out effort to block an environmental remediation effort in an impoverished, largely African American neighborhood of North Birmingham, known as 35th Avenue. Robinson, who pleaded guilty to charges of bribery, conspiracy, and fraud, admitted signing his name to letters opposing the cleanup that were ghostwritten by the Balch Bingham attorneys and to surreptitiously recording meetings with Environmental Protection Agency officials.

Speaking of indicted Balch partners (Joel Gilbert and Steven McKinney) and ghostwritten letters, that's where Luther Strange enters the picture. In a post titled "Luther Strange Coordinated with Indicted Balch Partners," reports:

We always suspected they were in cahoots.

Former State Attorney General and ex-U.S. Senator Luther Strange appears to be—unequivocally—the biggest stooge for Balch Bingham, the once prestigious, silk-stocking law firm.

Besides ghostwriting for their alleged bought-and-paid-for-politicians, Balch appears to have directly coordinated with state agencies.

How close was the coordination? spells it out:

On Oct. 23, 2014, Strange sent a formal letter to the EPA, calling the NPL listing "premature" and "futile." It has been pointed out before, this letter followed less than a week after Drummond Co. contributed $25,000 to Strange's reelection campaign, and Drummond was Strange's third largest donor in that election cycle.

What hasn't been evident before was how closely Strange's office and the Balch lawyers Gilbert and McKinney were working together.

When Strange's administrative assistant emailed the letter to the EPA, she blind carbon copied three lawyers in the Alabama Attorney General's office -- and Gilbert at Balch.

Essentially, Strange's office was letting Gilbert read their correspondence with the EPA without the EPA knowing Gilbert could see it.

And the Attorney General's office's coordination with Gilbert didn't stop there. Additional emails show that Robert Tambling, the chief of the environmental section, followed up on Nov. 4, 2014, after the EPA apparently failed to respond to Strange's first letter.

Tambling immediately forwarded a copy of his email to the EPA to Gilbert at Balch, writing to him, "Joel, Hope this helps. RT"

A few minutes later, Gilbert wrote back, "Can't hurt ... Thanks."

The Strange-Balch coordination apparently went well beyond the Superfund matter, as reports:

Now a can of worms has opened up, especially in relationship to Balch’s and Luther Strange’s involvement in the Newsome Conspiracy Case.

Did Balch in any way coordinate with the State Attorney General in 2016 to file a “cut and paste” brief in support of the resurrection of the bogus criminal case against Burt Newsome that had been expunged?

A public records request should be headed soon to the Office of the Attorney General.

A post dated Sept. 18, 2017, provides more details on Strange's ties to the Newsome case:

We have reached out to federal authorities and have asked them to investigate U.S. Senator Luther Strange’s involvement in alleged corruption and the trampling of the Civil Rights of Burt Newsome, a father of four young children who was wrongly targeted, falsely arrested, and defamed by one of Strange’s most ardent financial and political supporters, the embattled law firm Balch Bingham.

Burt Newsome
Strange has received tens of thousands of dollars from Balch Bingham or political action committees funded by Balch Bingham partners. Strange’s top political advisor and former campaign manager, Jessica Garrison, was “of counsel” at Balch until this past spring, a known revolving-door for political operatives.
What revolts us most is as Alabama Attorney General, Strange gave a helping-hand—just a year ago—to an alleged criminal conspiracy that trampled the Civil Rights of Burt Newsome, a father of four young children who was railroaded with a capital R.

According to court filings, Newsome, a small-town attorney in Alabama, was falsely arrested and defamed by the alleged co-conspirators including Balch Bingham which allegedly had a financial objective: to obtain Newsome’s lucrative banking collections business.

In April of 2014, the criminal case against Newsome collapsed and was eventually expunged from court records. But almost a year later after the expungement, in June of 2016, another judge, with allegedly no knowledge of the details of the case, reversed the expungement and opened the contents of a case that no longer existed, declaring that the previous judge (since retired) had erred.

Incredibly, Newsome was allegedly barred by court officials from filing a brief or petitioning the court at that time.

Raising eyebrows and expanding the web of possible collusion, two months later, in August of 2016, then-Attorney General Luther Strange filed a brief in support of the resurrected expungement, citing and regurgitating the order signed by the new judge.

Observers could not understand why his office would ever get involved in a matter like this, especially since the brief looked like a simple “cut and paste job.” The reason was Balch Bingham and other co-conspirators wanted to use the false criminal accusations in a civil case that the co-conspirators looked like they were losing against Newsome.

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