Former Alabama Governor Robert "Luv Guv" Bentley stated in a deposition made public last July that it was the idea of former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) chief Spencer Collier to launch a criminal investigation of me, in retaliation for my reporting on Bentley's extramarital affair with aide Rebekah Caldwell Mason ("Home Wrecky Becky"), which ended the governor's 50-year marriage. Collier, in a deposition we published last week (and it's embedded at the end of this post), tells a very different story.
Who is telling the truth? Given Bentley's history of lying repeatedly about the Mason affair and attacking the press in a way that would make Donald Trump blush, our money is on Collier. In a deposition from his wrongful-termination lawsuit against Bentley, Mason, and associates, Collier says it was Bentley's idea to use state and federal resources to seek dirt on me (and Birmingham attorney-Facebook blogger Donald Watkins) for leading the way on a scandal that would end with Bentley's ouster from the governorship after he pleaded guilty to two criminal charges and agreed to never again seek public office.
Al.com reports today that the state settled the Collier v. Bentley for $525,000, although that was not the total figure. In fact, the total bill to taxpayers tops $1 million. From the al.com report:
The state of Alabama paid $525,000 as part of a settlement of former Alabama Law Enforcement Secretary Spencer Collier’s lawsuit against former Gov. Robert Bentley and others.
The state also paid a total of $498,456 in legal defense costs for four defendants in the case, making the total cost to taxpayers $1.02 million.
The state’s online checkbook shows the payment from the state Finance Department on May 29. The entry says the payment is for “legal claim and award.” The payment was made to the Jemison and Mendelsohn law firm, which represented Collier.
Gov. Kay Ivey’s office confirmed the $525,000 payment was for the lawsuit settlement.
Asked why the state would pay to settle the lawsuit, the governor’s office noted that the funds were paid from the General Liability Trust Fund, which was established in state law for coverage of "damages arising out of the negligent or wrongful acts or omissions committed by state employees or agents of the state.” (Code of Alabama, Section 36-1-6.1.
Collier even explains how Bentley came to believe he could get away with using public resources for his personal vendettas. From the Collier deposition, with Bentley attorney John Neiman Jr. asking the questions: (Montgomery lawyer Kenneth Mendelsohn represents Collier.)
Q: Let's back up a little bit. You mentioned that ALEA had conducted an investigation into allegations of racial bigotry concerning a certain person, perhaps in the Wiregrass; do I have that correct?
A: It was -- it pertained to members of the Dothan Police Department, including at that time a current ALEA employee who was a former sheriff of Houston County who was also a former Dothan police officer. It centered around a homicide that occurred in the area at least a decade or so ago, prior to this. Accusations were that race played a role in not thoroughly doing an investigation. There were additional accusations made.
Our agents, and I don't recall who it was -- because it got in the public, our agents were able to quickly discredit and disprove what the blogger was saying. It was part of -- the summary or the synopsis of it was part of a routine briefing that I gave the governor; I think it was in writing. The governor reviewed it at a staff meeting. According to Jon Barganier, the governor was pleased with the quality investigation and made a comment to Jon why can't we do something like this about the Shelby County blogger? And I am referring to that because I don't recall his name. And according to Jon, [Bentley] instructed Jon to make contact with me and ask, and Jon did that. I explained to Mr. Barganier that I needed to speak to the governor directly.
Q: Do you recall the name of the former Dothan police officer who was the subject of the investigation you referred to?
A: It was multiple Dothan police officers. Andy Hughes was the -- was the employee, who at this time worked for us; he was a former sheriff of Houston County and also a former Dothan police officer. At this time, he was an assistant director in Homeland Security, oversaw a tactical team.
(Note: Barganier, deputy chief of staff, perhaps is best known for being part of the Alabama Gang that joined Bentley and his squeeze, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, at a Celine Dion concert in Las Vegas. Barganier stuck around to work for current Gov. Kay Ivey before bailing out last August to join the Alabama Petroleum Council.)
At this point in the proceedings, Watkins and I became front and center:
Q: Do you recall if the Shelby County blogger you referred to is named Roger Shuler?
A: That sounds -- that sounds right. I'm not sure, though, John.
Q: In both instances in which you contend the governor approached you about conducting these investigations --
A: These were not investigations.
Q: Well, tell me why it is not an investigation.
A: Well, they -- I am not aware they committed any crimes.
Q: Okay. Well, when the governor approached you about both Mr. Watkins and Shelby County, you told him that the -- taking action in the way that he suggested would not be proper. Was that the end of the conversation?
A: Yeah, explained to him that not taking action, but utilizing LETS, NCIC, really any restricted database, has to have a criminal justice reason to utilize it. So I explained we couldn't use it unless we had a law enforcement purpose.
Q: So you did not proceed with either task that the government -- that the governor had requested of you?
A: I did not. And one of the conversations, Agent Scott Lee was present when the governor made the request.
Collier indicates he asked Scott Lee to sit in on the conversation with Bentley, indicating the sensitive nature of the issues being discussed. We are left with a bunch of questions, but three stand out:
* Collier states he did not proceed with the task of trying to slime Watkins and me, but did Bentley find someone else who agreed to do his dirty work?
* Was Collier's refusal to go along with the dirt-gathering mission against bloggers part of the reason Bentley fired him?
* Did Bentley lie under oath about how the idea of attacking Watkins and me originated, and did that have something to do with the lawsuit settlement?