Former Alabama Rep. Oliver Robinson has been charged with having accepted bribes from a Birmingham lawyer and an Alabama coal company executive in exchange for advocating against EPA actions in North Birmingham, acting U.S. Attorney Robert O. Posey announced today.
He also is charged with fraud in connection with campaign contributions made to him and contributions he solicited for events he sponsored. The final count in the information charges Robinson with tax evasion.
Robinson agreed to plead guilty to the charges and to never again seek elected office, according to a plea agreement released by prosecutors. He also agreed to pay restitution and submit to a forfeiture judgment.
Robinson, a 57-year-old Democrat, represented Alabama’s House District 58 from 1998 until he resigned Nov. 30, 2016.
“Mr. Robinson is charged with conspiracy, bribery and defrauding the people of Alabama and his constituents his honest services,” Posey said at a press conference.
“The gist of the charges is that Mr. Robinson accepted a valuable contract from a Birmingham law firm in exchange for using his position in the Alabama Legislature to advocate for the position of a coal company which was a client of the law firm.”
Contracts paid to Robinson totaled $360,000.
A press release identified the law firm as Balch & Bingham. The coal company was identified as Drummond Coal and its affiliate ABC Coke. The latter had been named by the Environmental Protection Agency as being potentially responsible for the cleanup of neighborhoods the EPA sought to declare Superfund sites.
Posey said Robinson advocated against the EPA proposal to expand the area covered by the current 35th Avenue Superfund site.
“This proposal would have put additional Birmingham neighborhoods on a national priority list for cleanup and remediation of deposits of toxic chemicals into the soil of those neighborhoods,” he said.
Collegeville, Fairmont and Harriman Park are part of the Superfund site. Inglenook and Tarrant would have been in line to be added to that coverage.
The acting U.S. attorney said Robinson’s key act was to appear before the Alabama Environmental Management Commission and its director and argue against EPA’s declaration of the expansion of the Superfund site and on behalf of the coal company, “who could have potentially been responsible for tens of millions of dollars of cleanup.”
Posey said the case is an example of a well-funded special interest offering “an irresistible inducement” to a public official.
“In exchange, that public official represented the interests of those who were paying him rather than the interests of his community and constituents here in Birmingham,” Posey said.
Posey was accompanied by acting FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Deen Abbott and Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation, acting Special Agent in Charge Lisa Fontanette.
Robinson’s plea agreement requires him to cooperate with the ongoing investigation. Posey was asked whether those who paid Robinson would face charges; he repeated that the investigation continues.
“Really the bribe payers are the one that set the game,” he said. “They are the ones who offer the inducements to the politicians in the first place.”
When asked whether members of Robinson’s family might face charges, Posey responded, “Not at this time.”
The final wire fraud count charges Robinson with soliciting money from corporations, representing that he would use it to publish a magazine or to defray costs for an annual Partnering for Progress Business Conference or the annual Alabama Black Achievers Awards Gala, which the Oliver Robinson Foundation sponsored. Robinson spent at least $250,000 of those contributions on personal items unrelated to the magazine or the annual events, according to the charges.
The maximum penalty for conspiracy is five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. The maximum penalty for bribery is 10 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. The maximum penalty for each count of wire fraud is 20 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. The maximum penalty for tax evasion is five years imprisonment and a $100,000 fine, together with the costs of prosecution.
“If he cooperates, we will ask the court to consider a sentence below the sentencing guidelines range,” Posey said after the press conference. “There’s no ‘get out of jail (free card).’ We’re not promising probation.”
Read the documentation: