MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A former Alabama legislator was charged Thursday with taking bribes from a lawyer and a coal company executive to oppose federal efforts that could have forced clean-up of polluted areas in north Birmingham.
Former state Rep. Oliver Robinson agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy, bribery and honest services wire fraud, according to a copy of a plea agreement released by federal prosecutors in Birmingham. Federal prosecutors said Robinson was paid to use his position as a legislator to advocate against the Environmental Protection Agency’s possible prioritization and expansion of a Superfund site in north Birmingham.
“This case gets at the heart of public corruption in Alabama,” Acting U.S. Attorney Robert O. Posey said in a statement. He called it an example of a public official taking the side of those who pay him over those who elected him. “Here a public official betrayed his community to advocate for those who polluted their neighborhoods,” Posey said.
Federal prosecutors wrote in the charges that the goal was to protect Drummond Co. and its division ABC Coke “from the tremendous potential costs associated with being held responsible for pollution within the affected areas.”
The EPA had designated a swath of Birmingham as a Superfund site because of elevated levels of arsenic, lead and other chemicals and in 2013 notified a division of Drummond that it was one of five companies potentially responsible for the pollution. In 2014, the EPA considered adding the site to the national priority list and expanding it into other neighborhoods.
Robinson took a contract with the Birmingham law firm of Balch & Bingham, which represented Drummond. According to the charges against Robinson, a law firm employee and a Drummond employee, whom prosecutors did not name, agreed to pay Robinson to represent the firm and its clients’ interests on “environmental issues in north Birmingham.”
Robinson urged constituents in Birmingham to oppose the Superfund action, claiming it would be bad for the area, and spoke out against the proposed action before the state environmental agency. Robinson’s invoices to the law firm would sometimes be paid through a nonprofit called Alliance for Jobs and the Economy that was created by the Drummond employee, prosecutors said.
Robinson was paid $360,000.00 under the contract during 2015 and 2016, prosecutors said.
“Oliver is deeply aware that he has let down the public, his constituents and his family as it relates to certain decisions he made that he deeply regrets. Entering into a plea agreement with the government represents the clearest evidence that he is taking complete responsibility for his mistakes and misjudgments,” lawyers Richard S. Jaffe and Michael Whisonant, Jr. said in a statement.
A spokesman for Drummond could not be immediately reached for comment.
The law firm issued a statement that it is cooperating with authorities.
“We are aware of the guilty plea of Oliver Robinson and the allegations included in the plea documents. We take these matters seriously, and are taking all appropriate steps to assess the situation. Honesty and integrity are core values at Balch & Bingham, and they will guide us as we evaluate these allegations,” the statement read.
Robinson, 57, had served in the Alabama House of Representatives from 1998 until his sudden resignation last year.