A panel of appellate judges will hear oral arguments in Montgomery this morning in the criminal case of longtime Alabama attorney, banker, and entrepreneur Donald Watkins. The hearing is set to begin at 9 a.m. at the Frank M. Johnson Jr. Federal Courthouse in downtown Montgomery. It is expected to last about one hour and is open to the public. Watkins wrote about the appeal recently at his Web site. Long known for his outspoken manner, Watkins does not mince words on this occasion:
Three years ago, I was railroaded and convicted in a U.S. District Court in Birmingham, Alabama (USA) on trumped up wire, mail, and bank fraud charges. On Tuesday, April 26, 2022, a three-judge panel of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit is scheduled to hear the appeal in my case.
The hearing will begin at 9 a.m. CST at the Frank M. Johnson, Jr., Federal Courthouse in downtown Montgomery, Alabama. It is open to the public.
[Click here to read the Watkins Opening Brief, the Government's Responsive Brief, and the Watkins Reply Brief in the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.]
USA v. Donald V. Watkins, Sr., and Donald V. Watkins, Jr., is the first case listed on the Court's docket for April 26th. The Court will hear legal arguments from attorneys representing my son, Donald V. Watkins, Jr., and and me, as well as the Government. The arguments are expected to last one hour.
I am represented in the appeal by Montgomery, Alabama, attorney, Mark Englehart, who is a true friend and remarkable human being. Attorney Englehart sat by my side thronughout my entire three-week trial in 2019. He has one of the best legal minds in the nation and is a brilliant appellate lawyer.
Watkins provides a summary of the difficult path he and his son have followed since their convictions:
Donald, Jr., was found "Not Guilty" of bank fraud charges, but "Guilty" of a conspiracy charge to commit wire and mail fraud. He was sentenced to 27 months in a prison camp and was released last year.
I received 60 months in prison. I was denied an appeal bond by U.S. District Court Judge Karon O. Bowdre and entered prison on August 28, 2019.
On April 14, 2020, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) executed an agreement to transfer me to home confinement, but this transfer was blocked by Birmingham federal prosecutor Lloyd Peeples. Peeples feverishly lobbied the FCI Talladega Warden, the BOP's Central Office in Washington, and the U.S. Probation Office in Birmingham to oppose my release to home confinement.
On November 3, 2020, Judge Bowdre denied a motion filed on my behalf for a compassionate release based upon my age (71 at the time) and pre-existing health conditions that exposed me to the highest risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19.
Thereafter, the BOP deliberately placed me in prison cells with federal inmates who were unvaccinated and who were diagnosed with confirmed cases of COVID-19. The BOP also entrusted my daily care to convicted gang leaders and murderers for more than three months at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta, even though my extremely low custody classification score prohibited my exposure to violent prisoners.
USP Atlanta was closed in July of 2021 due to widespread graft and corruption among the staff and inmate population. Convicted gang leaders literally ran the prison. The prison's 1,800 inmates were transferred to other BOP prison facilities.
I am presently incarcerated at the Federal Prison Camp at La Tuna in Anthony, New Mexico. By the time the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decides my case, I will likely be released from prison.
As one might expect, Watkins does not hold cheery thoughts toward those responsible for the prosecution. Also, he touches on what appears to be a brewing scandal connected to the North Birmingham Superfund bribery case:
The singular goal of the Birmingham federal prosecutors was to imprison me, by any and all means necessary, whether I was innocent of the charges against me, or not. My son was taken as a hostage, with a proverbial gun to his head, in order to pressure me into pleading guilty. Both of us fought the bogus criminal charges because we were innocent.The allegations of wire and mail fraud in my case were first reviewed and evaluated by top-flight career prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Jersey in 2015 and 2016, who found no wrongdoing on my part. The lead prosecutor in New Jersey congratulated me for my achievements in the international energy business.In October 2017, the Birmingham U.S. Attorney's Office, under the supervision of Jay Town and Lloyd Peeples, asked Atlanta-based U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) officials, who had a substantial conflict of interest in the case, to give them a shot at the case. The SEC obliged them.Jay Town is a small-time Republican political hack in Huntsville, Alabama. He was recommended as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama by U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) after Donald Trump became president. In July of 2017, Trump appointed Town to the job.
Town qualified for the U.S. Attorney's job because: (a) he was featured in a TV campaign ad attacking President Barack Obama that Sen. Shelby ran during his 2016 re-election campaign, and (b) he enjoys the "white male privilege" that is often accorded to inadequate white male political operatives in Alabama.
Prior to his appointment as U.S. Attorney, Jay Town was an obscure assistant district attorney in Madison County, Alabama, with a lackluster record as a state prosecutor.
Town resigned abruptly as U.S. Attorney in late 2020 after media organizations began looking into allegations that he "fixed" the outcome of a criminal investigation into a bribery scheme that paid more than $360,000 to state Rep. Oliver Robinson from a sham non-profit organization named the "Alliance for Jobs and the Economy" (AJE).AJE was funded by Alabama Power Company, the Drummond Company, and their business alliance partners. Oliver Robinson was paid this laundered money to derail an initiative by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to designate a black neighborhood in North Birmingham as an EPA Super-Fund cleanup site.This money-laundering and bribery scheme was structured and overseen by the Balch Bingham law firm in Birmingham, which represents Alabama Power Company. Prior to becoming the CEO at Alabama Power Company, Mark Crosswhite was a partner in Balch Bingham.
In late 2020, a photograph surfaced showing Mark Crosswhite having celebratory drinks with Jay Town in a cozy lounge after Town steered the Oliver Robinson-North Birmingham bribery investigation away from Alabama Power's pivotal role in 2017. An embarrassed, flawed, and deeply compromised Jay Town left office amid allegations that he "fixed" the case for Alabama Power Company and Balch Bingham.
Town's right-hand man was Lloyd Peeples. Peeples was a failed pizza store operator when Town hired him in October of 2017 to run the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Alabama on a day-to-day basis as his First Assistant U.S. Attorney. With Peeples at the helm, Town remained in Huntsville and collected a full-time paycheck for performing ceremonial duties as the U.S. Attorney on a part-time basis.
Apart from being financially distressed and failing miserably in private business, Peeples came into the U.S. Attorney's office with a documented history of hostility to women and blacks.
Today, Lloyd Peeples is the Chief of the Office's Criminal Division. As a Trump political hack and holdover employee, Peeples has burrowed himself into the Office's bureaucracy where he continues to hustle a living off of federal taxpayers' money.
Watkins says he is taking a hopeful, but realistic, approach to today's proceeding and its outcome, which probably will not be known for several months:
My son and I are doing well. We learned a long time ago how to navigate life in Alabama's sea of racial hatred.
We also enjoy a very strong and loving family and friends support network that is derived from the interracial goodwill of five generations of Carmichael/Varnado/Watkins trailblazers who faced the same or similar racial hostility in the Deep South, and persevered.
Donald, Jr., and I are hopeful about the outcome of our appeal. However, we are also realists. We know how "rigged" the federal criminal justice system is today, particularly against black, brown, and poor people in the Deep South. It will be interesting to see whether the three-judge panel that hears our appeal is all-white and whether these judges are from Alabama.
In the end, my son and I are the masters of our fate and the captains of our souls. God has been on our side throughout this ordeal. He will deliver us safely to the other side of midnight. He always does.