One Week Down, Week Two Beginning in Bribery Trial

Hugo L. Black Courthouse (Source: Federal Court website)

The federal trial of three men accused of conspiring to bribe Oliver Robinson when he was an Alabama state representative enters its second week Monday, following a week of jury selection, opening statements and initial testimony from several Balch & Bingham employees.

The defendants in the trial are Joel Gilbert and Steven George McKinney — two attorneys for Birmingham law firm Balch & Bingham — and David Lynn Roberson, a vice president for the Birmingham-based Drummond Company. All three have been charged on six counts — conspiracy, bribery, money laundering and three counts of wire fraud. They are accused of bribing Robinson to oppose the expansion of an EPA clean-up site in north Birmingham.

Robinson has pled guilty to accepting the bribes; he had publicly resisted EPA efforts to clean up north Birmingham neighborhoods after his nonprofit, the Oliver Robinson Foundation, had received tens of thousands of dollars from Balch & Bingham, who were representing Drummond at the time. Robinson, a Democrat from Birmingham, resigned from office in late 2016; he is slated to testify against Gilbert, McKinney and Roberson in coming weeks. Gilbert, McKinney and Roberson have all pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Here are the highlights from week one of the trial:

  • The list of potential witnesses features some big names. During jury selection Tuesday, attorneys revealed a long list of possible witnesses who may be asked to testify — and it spans across all levels of government: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions; U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby; U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer; former Birmingham Mayor William Bell; Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh; Alabama Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon; Alabama Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed; Birmingham City Councilors Lashunda Scales and William Parker; state Sens. Rodger Smitherman and Jabo Waggoner; state Reps. Rod Scott and Mary Moore.
  • The defendants have turned on Robinson. Much of the defense’s strategy appears to be centered on discrediting Robinson as a witness. Jack Sharman, one of Gilbert’s attorneys, said that Robinson was facing charges of campaign fraud when “the government offered him a way out” by implicating the defendants. Roberson’s attorney, Henry Asbill, said that Robinson’s plea bargain was a false attempt to escape tax evasion charges. “Oliver Robinson is a liar and a perjurer … and he admits it,” Asbill said. “If my client had any idea who the real Oliver Robinson was … he would have never been asked for his foundation to lead a grassroots campaign.”
  • McKinney denies involvement entirely. Attorneys for Steven George McKinney argue that there is no proof their client entered into a conspiracy with Robinson, saying that the documents in the case do not mention McKinney directly communicating with Robinson; he was, however, copied on many emails regarding Robinson’s opposition of the clean-up site, reported.
  • Balch & Bingham employees were told not to reference the Oliver Robinson Foundation on invoices. Linda Shaper, Gilbert’s assistant, took to the stand to defend her employer, saying she does not think he did anything inappropriate or unethical. She did, however, tell jurors that she was instructed by Gilbert not to reference the Oliver Robinson foundation on invoices. Balch & Bingham Director of Finance Carolyn Jeff later testified that the firm’s invoices to Robinson’s foundation were unique and “something they had not been asked to do before.”