For years, Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely deposited thousands of dollars of public money into his personal bank account because he had exceeded his account balance, a district attorney said today. ‘State.
Alabama prosecutors today told the downtown Athens jury that Blakely was in a Mississippi casino while he was supposed to participate in a taxpayer-funded conference trip to Alabama, that he would regularly borrow money taken from inmates at his prison from the safe and that he forced county inmates to work for a man the sheriff owed $ 50,000.
But Blakely’s defense team told the jury that there was nothing to see here.
Robert Tuten, senior defense attorney for Blakely, said none of the 11 incidents described by state prosecutors amounted to a crime. He said each of the charges had a “simple and logical explanation” and that all the money was accounted for.
“There is no missing money,” he told the jury.
In his opening statement to the 10-term sheriff’s bribery trial, Kyle Beckman, the state’s deputy attorney general, outlined the state’s case. He painted a portrait of a man who overspended his income and tried to avoid bank overdrafts by depositing campaign and sheriff’s office funds into his personal account.
Beckman told the Limestone County jury that Blakely, Alabama’s longest-serving sheriff, was guilty of 11 crimes of theft and abuse of power.
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“It is important that there is confidence in the integrity of government,” Beckman said. “Just because Mike Blakely is the sheriff doesn’t mean he’s above the law. “
But Tuten said state prosecutors won’t be able to prove Blakely “intended” to commit crimes, which is required for a conviction.
“The state wants to come from Montgomery and tell him that he has committed crimes,” Tuten said.
But Beckman told the jury the state had not come to Limestone County to “go after Mike Blakely.”
Beckman said Blakely took four campaign donations – totaling $ 11,000 – and deposited them into his personal account at Bank Independent, instead of depositing them into the Friends of Mike Blakely campaign account at First National. Bank.
Beckman said bank statements will show Blakely used campaign funds to avoid overdrafting his personal account. Campaign fundraising reports will show Blakely did not disclose or report the donations, as required by law, Beckman said.
For example, in December 2014, Blakely had just been re-elected for a ninth term and had accepted a donation of $ 1,500 from the Alabama Realtors Political Action Committee. He deposited the check into his personal account, Beckman told the jury. The prosecutor said a few days later Blakely’s account would have been overdrawn by more than $ 1,000 had he not deposited the estate agent’s check.
Tuten said the 2014-15 campaign fundraising records were destroyed due to a sewage back-up at the home of Blakely’s campaign treasurer.
Beckman said the two county law enforcement fund theft charges occurred when Blakely was supposed to attend out-of-town professional conferences in Las Vegas and Orange Beach, but is instead went to casinos.
For example, in 2016 Blakely was supposed to attend a weeklong conference hosted by the Alabama Association of County Commissions in Orange Beach, Beckman said. The sheriff got $ 1,500 from the county law enforcement fund to pay for trips and a condo. But he only spent one day playing golf and attending a vendor show in Orange Beach before heading to Biloxi, Mississippi, to stay at a casino with two county commissioners, Beckman said. . Blakely never registered for the conference in Alabama.
While in Biloxi, Beckman claimed, Blakely also committed another crime: soliciting something of value from a subordinate. Beckman said Blakely called his office clerk – a woman who earns less than half the sheriff’s salary – and asked him to wire him a $ 1,000 personal loan.
Tuten said the clerk will testify that she was under no pressure or coercion to repay the loan. She has been Blakely’s friend for decades.
Another of the five counts of using his position for personal gain accuses Blakely of repeatedly borrowing funds – obtaining interest-free loans – from a safe that contained money belonging to inmates of Limestone County Jail between April 2013 and June 2016.
Beckman said Blakely repeatedly went to the jail clerk and asked for money in the safe, and the employee kept a running tab of how much the sheriff owed the fund. Beckman said Blakely ultimately wrote 19 separate checks from his personal account to refund the money.
But, he said, the sheriff told the clerk to keep the checks, totaling $ 29,050. It was 271 days later – after the sheriff received hundreds of thousands of dollars – that he told the clerk to deposit his checks in the bank, Beckman said.
In another case, the sheriff is accused of sending three of his inmates – including one convicted of murder – to work for a man who loaned Blakely $ 50,000.
Tuten said state prosecutors would not be able to prove intent and that Blakely had committed no crime.
Beckman told the jury that the office of Steve Marshall, the Republican Attorney General of Alabama, began investigating Blakely, who is a Democrat, in October 2018. It was after the Ethics Commission of the Alabama told the AG’s office that Blakely may have violated state ethics laws.
Blakely has been the sheriff of Limestone County, a fast growing county with just under 100,000 residents in the Huntsville subway, since 1983.
He is just one of many county officials – the others include a judge, a former commissioner and two principals – who have come under scrutiny for corruption over the past two years.
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Pamela Baschab, the retired judge specially appointed to preside over the trial, adjourned the court for the day after the opening statements.
The trial continues with the first testimony Monday at 9 a.m.