Tuesday, May 28, 2019

U.S. probe of TN developer Franklin Haney and his nuclear money pit could unmask Trump swindlers and the Alabama swamp creatures who help them flourish

Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant

Federal investigators in New York are scrutinizing a Tennessee developer's $1-million donation to the Trump inaugural committee, and the probe ultimately could shine light on the toxic, greed-fueled political environment that has enshrouded Alabama for at least a quarter of a century, according to a report from Associated Press.

Franklin Haney, of Chattanooga, apparently made the donation in hopes of gaining support from the Trump administration for his plan to resurrect the Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant in northeast Alabama. Haney's plan, at least initially, is to sell energy to one customer -- Memphis Light Gas and Water Division (MLGW).

Haney has a history of dumping cash on Alabama governors, including Robert Bentley and Bob Riley. In fact, sources tell Legal Schnauzer that several crooked Alabama political figures are hoping to benefit from a Bellefonte deal.

To add several extra layers of sleaze to the project, it has ties to . . . of course, Russia. So far, Haney has little to show for his Trump gift other than the attention of U.S. prosecutors. From the AP report:

Real estate mogul Franklin Haney contributed $1 million to President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee and all he’s got to show for the money is the glare of a federal investigation.

The contribution from Haney, a prolific political donor, came as he was seeking regulatory approval and financial support from the government for his long-shot bid to acquire the mothballed Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant in northeastern Alabama. More than two years later, he still hasn't closed the deal. . . .

Haney’s hefty donation to Trump’s inaugural committee is being scrutinized by federal prosecutors in New York who are investigating the committee’s finances. Their probe is focused in part on whether donors received benefits after making contributions.

Former Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen could play a major role in turning over dirt to the feds. Reports AP:
Trump's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, has given prosecutors information regarding Haney, his son and business associate, Frank Haney Jr., and the nuclear plant project, according to a person familiar with what Cohen told the authorities. The person was not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity.

Haney had briefly hired Cohen to help obtain money for the Bellefonte project from potential investors, including the Middle Eastern country of Qatar. Cohen is now serving a three-year prison sentence for tax evasion, lying to Congress and campaign finance violations.

Prosecutors also are examining whether foreigners unlawfully contributed to the committee. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan issued a subpoena last year seeking a wide range of financial records from the committee, including any "communications regarding or relating to the possibility of donations by foreign nationals."

Where might those international money trails lead? One destination, as we reported last September, is Russia. In fact, our sources say Gov. Kay Ivey likely is playing fast and loose with Alabama taxpayer dollars in an effort to help promote a Bellefonte deal. Could that lead federal investigators to cast an eye toward Montgomery, Alabama? From our September 2018 report:

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey is providing a taxpayer-funded defense for former Gov. Robert Bentley in the Spencer Collier lawsuit probably because she is trying to pave the way for a plan to resurrect the dormant Bellefonte nuclear plant in northeast Alabama, says a state political insider. Like much of Alabama's corruption, the shady deal appears to involve Russian interests, from a country notorious for its rampant organized crime.

Bill Britt, editor of Alabama Political Reporter (APR), reported earlier this week that Bentley's high-priced lawyers from Maynard Cooper and Gale of Birmingham are playing hardball on discovery, stonewalling on producing the names of donors to the ACEGOV nonprofit, which has become known as Bentley's "Girlfriend Fund" because it was used to pay his mistress and senior adviser Rebekah Caldwell Mason.

Why the determination to stiff the Collier legal team on discovery? Jill Simpson -- opposition researcher, whistle blower, and retired attorney -- says it likely is because Chattanooga real-estate mogul Franklin Haney was a prominent donor to ACEGOV. And he is the money man behind the Bellefonte project.

So, Bentley has been out of office for more than two years, but the swamp he left behind still is dragging Alabama down. Bob Riley, who could be called Alabama's "Creature from the Black Lagoon," had sticky fingers when it comes to Haney cash, and Riley's swampy ways continue to infest Alabama:

Why is the Ivey administration so doggedly defending Bentley instead of putting the matter to rest? Simpson says it's likely because Ivey supports the Bellefonte project on behalf of what Simpson calls the "Alabama Gang" of corrupt right-wing politicos -- including such luminaries as "Luv Guv" Bentley, former U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, former Gov. Bob Riley, and former Business Council of Alabama (BCA) president Bill Canary.

As for the Bellefonte project's ties to Russia, that's not just a guess; it's a matter of public record. From our September 2018 report:

Haney has reached an agreement with SNC-Lavalin, a Canadian engineering firm, to finish at least one of two reactors at Bellefonte -- with the assistance of federal loan guarantees.

SNC-Lavalin has a history of working on various projects with Russian interests, via the VEB Bank, which has close ties to Vladimir Putin. reputed mobster Oleg Deripaska, and former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort (who has been found guilty of financial crimes.)

See what we mean about the "Russification of Alabama"?

Could the Haney probe send shock waves through Alabama government? Well, his pet nuclear project is in our state. And he has a history of greasing the palms of Alabama governors, as we reported in May 2016:

The Haney Cash Caravan started with Bob Riley, who after receiving lots of Tennessee dough, suddenly started pushing for a deal regarding the old Social Security Building in Birmingham--a deal that proved awfully sweet for Mr. Haney (not to be confused with the lovable greaseball character from Green Acres). . . . 

Haney, according to the Alabama Secretary of State's office, passed at least $130,000 to Riley through PACs run by noted PACman Clark Richardson, much like he did last year with the Birmingham City Council. . . .

Riley, later, would become a big advocate for Haney and the Birmingham building.

One of his last acts as governor was to sign a lease that would consolidate Jefferson County's Department of Human Resources and move that agency into 290,000 square feet of Haney's building. Annual rent on that building began at $1.2 million a year, according to the lease, but rises this year to $5 million for the remainder of the term, plus possible extra costs for operational expenses.

That's higher than any of the 63 state tenants in any of David Bronner's newer and shinier RSA buildings, according to state records. It appears to be the highest rental rate for any state agency.

Riley not only signed the lease as he left office, he lobbied for Haney in Birmingham.

What about Bentley's ties to the Haney Gravy Train? Well, it looks like Mr. Haney, from Tennessee, might have helped pay for the "Luv Guv's" mistress, Rebekah Caldwell Mason:

Franklin Haney
Haney has resurfaced under the Bentley regime. This time, Haney dumped cash on Bentley--possibly even helping support a slush fund to pay Bentley's mistress, Rebekah Caldwell Mason--and wound up getting support for a project involving a partially built nuclear reactor in northeast Alabama. Haney also got more support for his office building.

Just the traceable donations from Haney's businesses to Bentley's last campaigns total about $300,000, much of which moved into Bentley's campaign account after the last election was over. . . . That campaign account subsequently paid the salary of Rebekah Caldwell Mason, the governor's senior political advisor with whom he is accused of having an affair.

Could this possibly get any sleazier? Perhaps U.S. prosecutors from New York will help answer that question -- and maybe "Cowgirl Kay Ivey" and a few of her predecessors as Alabama governor could wind up in a tight spot. And it could come from a project that, experts say, has limited value for producing modern-day energy. From the AP report:

Stephen Smith, executive director of the nonprofit Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said Haney faces too many technical and financial hurdles to overcome.

For example, Bellefonte’s never-completed nuclear reactors are decades old and are of a unique design that has never received an operating license in the U.S. before. He compared Bellefonte to a Ford Pinto, a 1970s-era vehicle with serious engineering flaws. Smith said it’s “extraordinarily unlikely” Bellefonte will be allowed to operate.

Maybe the "stable genius" in the White House can help sort all of this out.

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