In one of the state’s biggest criminal corruption cases, a federal jury has found an executive for a major coal producer and a Birmingham attorney guilty of bribing a member of the Alabama State House.
The jury returned guilty verdicts on six counts against Drummond Company Vice President for Government Affairs David Roberson, and six more against Joel Gilbert, an attorney for Balch & Bingham. The verdicts were handed down late Friday afternoon, after a day and a half of deliberation that capped a trial that ran for four weeks.
Federal prosecutors said that Roberson and Gilbert bribed former Alabama Rep. Oliver Robinson, giving to a charitable foundation he controlled in return for him using his influence to oppose the Environmental Protection Agency’s expansion of a Superfund toxic waste site in Tarrant and Inglenook.
The EPA wanted to place the expanded site on its National Priorities List. That site includes areas around ABC Coke, which is operated by Drummond; the company had been told by the EPA that it might be held responsible for cleanup costs in the expanded area.
A second Balch attorney, Steven McKinney, had charges against him dropped by U.S. District Judge Abdul Kollan the day before the case went to the jury.
“We’re happy for the citizens of Birmingham that someone is finally speaking on their behalf,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney George Martin, the lead prosecutor for the case. “We’re happy that we were able to shine a light into this dark corner of Alabama politics and clean up a little bit of the pollution that’s there. This jury has spoken valiantly that this won’t be tolerated … . This is a righteous verdict.”
Martin added that the crimes were more difficult to prove because there weren’t “bags of cash” involved, but contracts instead. “They papered it over,” he said.
Robinson reached a plea deal with prosecutors in return for his cooperation in the case. He was scheduled to be sentenced next month, but that sentencing has been delayed until September.
Both Roberson and Gilbert could face sentences of “about a hundred years,” as Martin put it, if they were given the maximum term for each count and the terms were to run consecutively.
After the verdict, Robin DeMonia of Direct Communication issued this statement on behalf of Drummond Company: “We are disappointed by the jury’s decision to convict our employee, David Roberson. While we respect the judicial process, we consider David to be a man of integrity who would not knowingly engage in wrongdoing. When an environmentalist group raised allegations regarding our operations in the Birmingham area, Drummond responded by hiring one of Alabama’s most well-respected environmental law firms. As testimony in the trial showed, we were assured the firm’s community outreach efforts on our behalf were legal and proper.”
Kollan said sentencing for Gilbert and Roberson would be in about three months.