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|Raid at VictoryLand|
If the application adheres to certain technical requirements, Strange claims, a circuit judge must approve the search warrant. That was the attorney general's primary argument in seeking a writ of mandamus that would force a Macon County judge to approve the warrant. The Alabama Supreme Court apparently agreed because it issued the writ, ordering Judge Thomas Young to sign off on the search.
The high court unsealed documents in the case yesterday, and the Montgomery Advertiser posted them to its Web site last night. A review of the documents shows that, as we suggested in a post yesterday, Strange and the Alabama Supreme Court trampled legal procedure and precedent in their haste to shut down VictoryLand's electronic-bingo operation.
Most stunning was Strange's claim that a circuit judge essentially must play the role of rubber stamp when law-enforcement officials present him with a search-warrant application that meets minimum technical requirements. In such a situation, Strange suggests, a judge has no authority to determine if the contents of the application show "probable cause" to believe a crime has been committed.
In Luther Strange's world, a judge is supposed to sign any form that law enforcement places before him--as long as all the boxes are properly filled in. Strange must not be familiar with the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guards against searches and seizures that are not judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause.
With the apparent intention of proving that the U.S. Constitution does not apply in Alabama, Strange turns in his petition to Rule 3.9 of the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure and to Code of Alabama 15-5-5. He claims that both prove Judge Young had a mandatory duty to approve the search warrant at VictoryLand. On page 13 of his petition for a writ of mandamus, Strange titles the key section "The trial court has an imperative duty to issue the warrant, and the State has a clear right to the issuance of the warrant."
Unfortunately for the attorney general, his citations to law do not say what he wants them to say. In fact, upon close reading, Strange's own petition undercuts his argument. The two sections of Alabama law that Strange cites essentially say the same thing--and the heart of it is this, taken from the rules of criminal procedure:
If the judge or magistrate is satisfied that probable cause to believe that grounds for the application exists, the judge or magistrate, in the case of a warrant issued on affidavit, shall issue a warrant naming or describing the person and particularly describing the property and the place to be searched.
Strange claims that use of the word "shall" means that issuance of the warrant is mandatory. But the clear language of the full rule shows a warrant "shall" issue only when a judge or magistrate is "satisfied that probable cause . . . exists."
Reaching into the way-back machine, Strange pulls out a case from 1899--Benners v. State, 26 So. 942 (Ala., 1899)--for the proposition that a judge has a duty to approve a warrant application that is "regular in form, and full in substance."
Benners is so old that we can't find it on the Web, but Strange makes no showing in his petition that the ancient state case precludes a judge from fulfilling his Fourth Amendment duty to make a determination on probable cause. Even Strange seems to acknowledge this when he writes:
As the Benners decision shows, it has long been the law of this State that when a circuit court is confronted with an affidavit from the State establishing probable cause to issue a warrant, the court has no discretion to decline to issue the warrant.
This is a poor attempt at legal hocus pocus. Strange claims, on the one hand, that a judge "has no discretion to decline to issue the warrant." But he admits that comes only after the judge is "confronted with an affidavit from the State establishing probable cause."
Despite much huffing and puffing, Strange concedes Judge Young had the discretion to determine whether the attorney general's office had met the requirements for probable cause--and the judge decided in the negative.
In a letter responding to Strange's petition, Judge Young says he denied the search warrant application for two primary reasons:
* Another law-enforcement officer, the sheriff of Macon County, had found the machines to be legal;
* The attorney general, if convinced that the bingo machines were illegal, could exercise his "plain view" authority to take action against VictoryLand.
The Petitioner, in essence, is asking this Court to sign an Order declaring these machines to be illegal, when there has been no such decision on this issue by any Court. If these machines were of such an illegal nature, as cited in the extensive briefs of the Attorney General, then why does the Attorney General need a warrant? This business is for public invitees and a search warrant would not be required if these machines were in plain sight and illegal.
Judge Young concludes with this big-picture statement:
The Fourth Amendment is sacred and should not be the subject of political agendas of Governors, Task Force(s), Attorney Generals or multi-million dollar industries. No Judge would issue a search warrant in any case under the aforementioned circumstances because of lack of probable cause establishing illegal activity nor should said Judges be ordered to do so.
Finally, Young made his feelings clear in a handwritten note at the bottom of the search warrant he was forced to approve. The warrant can be viewed at the end of this post, but here is how Young's note reads:
Based on the conflict in information known to this court at this time, I do not believe that this application for a search warrant provides sufficient probable cause. One month ago, based on this information, I declined to issue the warrant and the Criminal Court of Appeals supported the decision when they denied the Attorney General's first writ of mandamus, by unanimous decision. No new information has been provided to this date. The Supreme Court has now issued to this Court a Writ of Mandamus requiring the Court to sign the same warrant, despite this Court's opinion that it is improper according to the law. This Court will, as always, follow the mandates of the Supreme Court, although, it does so with the greatest judicial reluctance.
Documents in the VictoryLand matter make it clear that Strange disagreed with Judge Young's ruling--and the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals' ruling that unanimously upheld it. Strange is entitled to disagree and seek redress. But his contention that Young did not have discretion to make the ruling is preposterous.
That the Alabama Supreme Court apparently agreed with such a flagrantly unconstitutional notion should frighten everyone living within the borders of this state.
|A. Eric Johnston|
A. Eric Johnston, director of Citizens for a Better Alabama (CBA), says former Governor Bob Riley funneled the money through CBA to two companies owned by Hubbard, a long-time Riley ally. That revelation came in a report yesterday from Bill Britt at Alabama Political Reporter.
Britt hints at a rift between Johnston and his "pro family" organization on the one hand, with Riley and Hubbard on the other--even though all have been seen as prominent conservative voices against gambling.
The source of the rift is not clear from Britt's article. But our sources say Johnston's group might lose its tax-exempt status because it accepted funds that wound up with Hubbard's companies. That could leave Johnston with a sizable bill from the IRS, one he did not see coming. "People in Montgomery know that Eric Johnston is sweating," one source says.
Did Riley and Hubbard combine to double cross Johnston, exposing him to major tax liability? Britt's article hints at that:
How did then-Governor Bob Riley and Chairman of the ALGOP Mike Hubbard route almost a million dollars in Republican campaign contributions through a nonprofit and back to a Hubbard owned company?
“Someone from the governor’s [Bob Riley’s] office would call and say you’re getting a check for $200,000 and you’re going to get a bill at the same time from [Mike] Hubbard’s deal and you need to pay that, that is what that money is for.”
Those are the words of A. Eric Johnston a Birmingham-based attorney and anti-gambling advocate who explains the operational relationship between Bob Riley, Mike Hubbard and his 501c(4), Citizens for a Better Alabama.
Mike Hubbard was the politician who was supposed to bring honest government to Alabama? Sure doesn't sound like it from Britt's article:
The picture Johnston paints appears to be a brazen orchestration of campaign funds by a sitting governor to benefit his most faithful ally, Mike Hubbard.
Citizens for Better Alabama (CBA) was a Birmingham-based, tax-exempt group that was the public face of opposition to Sweet Home Alabama, and to shut down legal casinos operated at VictoryLand and Country Crossings. According to archived versions of its website, the CBA – run by A. Eric Johnston – has “been an advocate for the family since 1991.”
How did Johnston get into a potential tax mess? It appears he made the mistake of trusting Bob Riley:
Johnston said he had been fighting gambling for years without much help. “We really never had a knight on a white horse. . . . We just had to fight it in legislature and kill the bills.”
But according to Johnston in the last year of Bob Riley’s last term as governor that all change when the governor decided to fight gambling in the state.
According to Johnston, when Riley became interested in ridding the state of bingo gambling he was contacted by the Governor who said he wanted to help Johnston raise money.
“I don’t know why he [Riley] decided to do it [fight gambling] other than it was a propitious time to do it,” said Johnston. “Whatever he was doing was good. He was stopping illegal gambling.”
Riley's actions might not turn to be so good for Johnston's wallet. Here's why:
At the time it seemed that Johnston had found his white knight. But there was a problem, rather than making a partnership with a crusading knight, it seems Johnston had unknowingly entered into a potential devil’s bargain.
After aligning with Riley and Hubbard in 2010, CBA raised and spent over $1 million after never taking in over $50,000 in a year ever before.
Based on 2010 campaign finance and other records, the CBA was a crucial conduit for passing campaign cash through the 501c(4) into a potentially lucrative aspect of Mike Hubbard’s financial bottom-line. . . .
Johnston said the money that his organization received was almost entirely for advertising, he said, “Mike was in that business and I thought it appropriate for him to handle it.”
Who was behind this financial shell game? Johnston points a finger squarely at Bob Riley. From Britt's report:
Money was being directed by Bob Riley, who told the head of the 501c(4) how the money was to be spent. Not just the large amounts but even the so-called small donations. “I would be informed by the governor’s office that I would be getting a check for 2 or 3 thousand dollars and we would have ad bills that cost that much,” said Johnston, “and that money would be for those bills.”
According to Johnston, “We ran a zero balance campaign. Whatever money came in was spent, a lot of it was coordinated through Mike Hubbard’s company.”
The Britt article references tax issues, but their implications are not clear:
Johnston supplied “Alabama Political Reporter” with a copy of CBA’s 990 IRS fillings. However, the document we received is different than the one that Johnston filed with the IRS, according to a comparison on Guide Star.
On the 990 fillings, Johnston does not itemize the over $700,000 he received from Hubbard’s Network PAC and Bob Riley’s Gov PAC. The rest of the money primarily originated with longtime big-money Bob Riley donors. Johnston, as the sole member of CBA, said, “I didn’t raise any money.”
I didn't raise any money? That sounds like the words of a man who is trying to say, "They should pay the IRS bill, not me."
That's exactly what is happening, our sources say. And Britt's report raises all sorts of questions. Did the Riley/Hubbard/Johnston scheme violate tax laws, campaign-finance laws? Did donors know their campaign contributions were going to Mike Hubbard's companies? Could this constitute fraud, money laundering, or other criminal acts under state and/or federal laws? Could Eric Johnston wind up serving as a witness against Riley and Hubbard?
As a way to unruffle feathers, and fend off a potential investigation, will Bob Riley's big-money donors bail Johnston out of a jam? Based on what I've been told from individuals familiar with Riley's business practices, Johnston probably shouldn't count on it.
Meanwhile, the CBA director might want to visit an emergency room to have his back checked for knife wounds--right between the shoulder blades.
No. 1 on the list, for purposes of the SCOTUS petition, was that the high court's ruling in a 2010 case involving former Enron executive Jeffrey Skilling means the jury instructions in Minor were incorrect, and the convictions no longer rest on good law.
Minor's legal team, led by criminal-justice expert Albert Alschuler, makes a powerful argument to that effect in a 237-page petition filed with the high court. (The full petition can be viewed at the end of this post.) There can be no serious debate that Alschuler is correct, and here is why: Minor and two codefendants--former state judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield--were tried under the federal honest-services fraud statute and convicted on alleged violations of Mississippi state bribery law. But SCOTUS used Skilling v. U.S., 130 S. Ct. 2896 (2010) to establish a uniform national standard in honest-services cases and found that they must be grounded in federal law, not state laws.
Even the government has conceded in briefs and oral arguments that Skilling made the jury instructions in Minor incorrect, and that means the argument for overturning the convictions is about as close to cut and dried as the Supreme Court will ever find. So why did the justices refuse to hear the case? The message to the public seems to be this: "Even though this case was decided by bad law, and both sides agree on that, we simply can't be bothered with it. Next."
Is it any wonder that many Americans have lost faith in once-exalted institutions?
If the rule of law still meant anything in the US of A, the Minor convictions would be overturned on the Skilling issue alone. But Alschuler's petition for certiorari review provides alarming evidence that problems with the Minor case go way beyond that. That evidence reaches the level of frightening when you consider that Whitfield remains in federal prison, and Minor soon will be sent from a Pensacola prison to a halfway house in New Orleans to carry out his term. Teel was released in 2012 after completing his sentence.
Courts that are riddled with corruption and incompetence have ugly consequences for real Americans. Paul Minor, Wes Teel, and John Whitfield have received a graduate education in that fact of postmodern life.
Were these gentlemen convicted in a trial court that was fair, impartial, and firmly grounded in the law? Upon reading Alschuler's petition, a reasonable person can only respond, "Hell, no!" The U.S. Supreme Court, of course, apparently could not be bothered to read the petition.
The most shocking revelations come in pages 8-11, where Alschuler addresses the instructions that U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate gave the jury.
First, Alschuler points out that the instructions included the following language:
. . . you can fix it in your mind that when you see honest services, that you know we are talking about an alleged violation of the bribery laws of the State of Mississippi.
We now know that Skilling made that language an inaccurate statement of the law. In essence, the U.S. Supreme Court's own actions, in Skilling, made those words outdated and unlawful. Will the high court fix the problem on behalf of the Minor defendants--and other citizens who might someday find themselves convicted based on bad law? Nope.
Problems with the jury instructions in Minor go way beyond Skilling-related issues. Alschuler drives that home with this:
The instructions continued, "[T]he government must prove . . . that the particular defendant entered into a corrupt agreement for Paul S. Minor to provide the particular judge with things of value specifically with the intent to influence the action or judgment of the judge. . . ." They added, "To constitute the offense of offering a bribe, there need not be a mutual intent on the part of both the giver and the offeree or accepter of the bribe."
That language is likely to leave even a highly educated person scratching his head. One can only wonder how it affected the average federal juror in Mississippi. To put it bluntly, the instruction makes no frickin' sense--and Alschuler points that out with this not-so-subtle statement:
The court made no effort to reconcile its statement that an agreement was necessary with its statement that no mutual intent was required.
How do two people reach an agreement without having mutual intent? God only knows. But we send citizens to prison based on jury instructions such as these. And we have appellate courts and a Supreme Court that let it happen.
In a rare example of a lawyer communicating candidly about the ineptness of a federal court, Alschuler writes on page 26 of his petition:
". . . the district court's direction was cast in extraordinarily confusing language. It is virtually impossible to divine the instruction's meaning, but it appears to require an agreement between two people about what one of them will later intend. . . . The jurors could only have thrown up their hands."
No serious individual could argue, either before or after Skilling, that the Paul Minor case was correctly decided; even the government doesn't argue that. And yet, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the honest-services convictions, and the U.S. Supreme Court washed its hands of the matter. It all is one more sign that Americans should have no confidence in their justice system.
SCOTUS, in essence, is sending this message: "Welcome to the 'wild, wild West' of American justice. It's the environment we have, and it now bears our stamp of approval. If some of you decide to take matters of justice into your own hands, have at it--and good luck."
But Rollins might have become the most flagrant courtroom cheat job I've encountered because of simple numbers--as in those found from a date of birth. And the key numbers are present in an information sheet that Ted Rollins filed with his divorce action against Sherry Carroll Rollins in Alabama. (Document can be viewed at the end of this post.)
Sherry Rollins' date of birth is listed as 5/31/1952. Ted Rollins' date of birth is listed as 9/12/1962. That means she was 39 years old and he was 29 when they got married on December 7, 1991.
Under normal circumstances, none of that information should raise eyebrows. There is nothing unusual or improper about a man being attracted to a woman who is 10 years (or more) older than him. And we feel reasonably certain that Sherry Rollins had no problem attracting the attention of normal guys in a variety of age ranges.
But our research indicates Ted Rollins was not a normal guy, with normal interests--and it's not just because he comes from a family--the people behind Orkin Pest Control--that has abnormal wealth.
Just before she got married to Ted Rollins, Sherry Carroll spoke via telephone with Monica Bulich, who was Ted Rollins' first wife and had been divorced from him a few years earlier. Sherry Rollins says Ms. Bulich made a curious statement that she did not understand at the time. But Ms. Rollins now says she believes it was a warning that Ted Rollins' primary interest might be in her sons from a previous marriage, who were ages 10 and 16.
Here is part of Monica Bulich's message: "I know what he wanted with me; you just have to ask yourself what he wants with you--an older woman with two kids and nothing . . . "
What, by the way, did Ted Rollins want with Monica Bulich? Sherry Rollins says she was told that Ted's parents fixed him up with Monica, knowing she was a bright student who could help him get through graduate school at Duke University. She had an undergraduate degree in biology from Boston College and had worked for the Rollins family as a nanny to the four children (each separated by one year in age) that John Rollins Sr. would have with Michele Rollins. As Sherry Rollins understands it, Monica Bulich wound up doing much of Ted Rollins' graduate work for him, and they eventually got married at Duke Chapel.
What did Ted Rollins want with Sherry Carroll? That is where her age enters the picture. At 39, she was old enough to have one adolescent son and another who was about to enter adolescence. We now know that public documents show Ted Rollins physically abused the youngest boy and was the subject of a social-services investigation for possible child sexual abuse, based on a citizen complaint in North Carolina.
With the power of hindsight, Sherry Rollins says she thinks Monica Bulich saw the abuse coming and tried to warn her. "I think she knew he was after my sons," Ms. Rollins says.
That, Sherry Rollins says, is why Ted Rollins agreed to marry her without a prenuptial agreement, contrary to standard practice in his family. And it probably is why he went to extraordinary lengths--with assistance from his billionaire cousin, Randall Rollins--to ensure she would not receive an equitable share of marital assets that accumulated over 14 years, prior to their divorce in 2005.
Here is a portion of Sherry Rollins' statement to Legal Schnauzer on these matters:
I believe [Ted] knew he was never going to take me seriously as a wife; Zac, Eric, and I were covers to keep his family from wondering if he was normal. His first wife wanted to have children with him desperately; he left her because of it. But he came and found me, with two young sons.
(To be continued)
|9/11 author Phillip Marshall,|
with his children
Authorities concluded that Phillip Marshall and the other victims died on February 2 from a murder-suicide. But a prominent investigative journalist recently visited Calaveras County, spoke to many of Marshall's neighbors and friends, and found powerful reasons to doubt the official finding.
Marshall published The Big Bamboozle: 9/11 and the War on Terror in 2012. But Wayne Madsen, based in Washington, D.C., reports that Marshall was working on a new 9/11 book that might have contributed to his death.
Madsen's full three-part series is available via subscription at Wayne Madsen Reports (WMR). We have received permission to quote from the report. At a post titled "A Black Ops Hit Made to Appear as a Suicide," Madsen writes:
Philip Marshall, the retired United Airlines pilot, 9/11 analysis author, and one-time Iran-contra era associate of CIA/DEA informant Barry Seal, did not shoot his two teen-age children and himself. That is the conclusion of everyone who knew Marshall after he moved to the Sierra Nevadas community of Murphys ten years ago after he sold his home in Santa Barbara. Friends said Marshall was looking for more seclusion.
Marshall, who believed that the Bush family, allied with Saudi and neo-conservative interests, pulled off the 9/11 attack to engineer a government coup d'etat, was working on a fourth book that promised to reveal some new blockbuster information.
The Santa Barbara View apparently was first to raise questions about Marshall's death. From a February 6 piece titled "Phillip Marshal Wrote About Conspiracies; Was He the Victim of One?"
Former airline pilot Phillip (alternately, “Philip”) Marshall spent a great deal of time around Santa Barbara last year preparing for the release of his controversial 9/11 conspiracy book “The Big Bamboozle: 9/11 and the War on Terror.”
During the editing and pre-marketing process of Marshall’s book, he expressed some degree of paranoia because the nonfiction work accused the George W. Bush administration of being in cahoots with the Saudi intelligence community in training the hijackers who died in the planes used in the attacks.
“Think about this,” Marshall said last year in a written statement, “The official version about some ghost (Osama bin Laden) in some cave on the other side of the world defeating our entire military establishment on U.S. soil is absolutely preposterous.”
Marshall went on to say: “The true reason the attack was successful is because of an inside military stand-down and a coordinated training operation that prepared the hijackers to fly heavy commercial airliners. We have dozens of FBI documents to prove that this flight training was conducted in California, Florida and Arizona in the 18 months leading up to the attack.”
What was the result of Marshall's research on 9/11? Here is how he put it in writing to Santa Barbara View:
“After an exhaustive 10-year study of this lethal attack that used Boeing airliners filled with passengers and fellow crew members as guided missiles, I am 100 percent convinced that a covert team of Saudi intelligence agents was the source of logistical, financial and tactical resources that directed essential flight training to the 9/11 hijackers for 18 months before the attack,” Marshall wrote. “This conclusion was determined six years ago, and all subsequent evidence has only served to confirm this conclusion.”
Marshall was not alone in that assessment. Reports Santa Barbara View:
On March 1, two former U.S. senators, who headed separate 9/11 federal investigations, also raised the possibility of Saudi involvement in the attacks that killed 3,000 people and spurred the global War on Terror. In sworn statements that seem likely to reignite the debate, former senators Bob Graham and Bob Kerrey, who saw top-secret information on the Saudis’ activities, said they believe that the Saudi government played a direct role in the terrorist attacks.
“I am convinced that there was a direct line between at least some of the terrorists who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks and the government of Saudi Arabia,” former Senator Bob Graham said in an affidavit filed as part of a lawsuit brought against the Saudi government and dozens of institutions in the country by families of 9/11 victims and others. Graham headed a 2002 joint congressional inquiry into the attacks and has claimed he was muzzled into silence about his committee’s findings in 2002 by former Vice President Dick Cheney and other top members of the Bush intelligence community.
In his own sworn affidavit, Kerrey said “significant questions remain unanswered” about the role of Saudi institutions. “Evidence relating to the plausible involvement of possible Saudi government agents in the (9/11) attacks has never been fully pursued,” Kerrey said in a March 1, 2012, New York Times article.
Madsen's on-site reporting produced a number of reasons to question the murder-suicide finding:
Neighbors and friends of Marshall contradicted a number of Calaveras County Sheriff's Department findings about what they quickly concluded was a murder-suicide by a crazed killer. Furthermore, one close professional colleague of Marshall believed a federal "black ops" team prevailed upon the Sheriff's Department to come up with the rapid murder-suicide explanation.
WMR learned from a local media source in Calaveras County that Sheriff Gary Kuntz is dragging his feet on providing local newspapers with two critical reports: the toxicological report on Marshall's and his son's and daughter's bodies and the GSR (Gunshot Residue) report on the bullets fired from what was reported to be Marshall's 9 mm Glock, which neighbors reported was never loaded.
Where is the Marshall investigation headed? It might be too early to say, but Madsen reports that the official story seems to contain a number of holes:
The Sheriff . . . stated that no gunshots were heard by neighbors on the evening of January 31 or early morning of February 1 because the houses are far apart. In fact, the houses are extremely close together and one neighbor stated she could "hear Phil whistling from inside his house." Police immediately denied that a silencer or other noise suppression device could have been used in the four shootings that included single shots each to Marshall, son Alex, daughter Macaila, and Shih-tzu dog "Suki," the latter found in a bedroom. One neighbor reported hearing an unusual noise during the evening of January 31, a Thursday.
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Sherry and Ted Rollins were married for 14 years before their divorce was finalized in 2005, right here in my backyard, Shelby County, Alabama. Ted Rollins grew up in one of the nation's wealthiest families, the folks behind Orkin Pest Control, and he has gone on to become CEO of Campus Crest Communities, a Charlotte-based developer of student housing that has received more than $400 million in Wall Street support.
Public documents reveal that the fears of Monica Bulich, Ted Rollins' first wife, came true. He was convicted in 1995 of assaulting his stepson, Zac Parrish, who was 16 years old at the time. Two years before that, social-services officials in North Carolina investigated Ted Rollins for possible child sexual abuse, based on a citizen complaint.
We do not know what prompted Monica Bulich to warn Sherry Carroll about what might be ahead for her. But we do know about some of what went on during Ted Rollins' second marriage. And in an example of history repeating itself, we know that Sherry Carroll Rollins sent a warning to the woman who would become Mrs. Ted Rollins, No. 3.
What drove Sherry Rollins' concerns? Once her divorce was complete, she knew that Ted Rollins was about to marry a woman named Holly Matheson, from Greenville, South Carolina. And the new woman in Ted Rollins' life had a son, Ethan Matheson, who was about 10 years old. That just happens to have been the age of Zac Parrish when Ted Rollins entered his life.
"Funny how Ted chooses wives with young boys," Sherry Rollins says. "Seems to be a pattern."
Sherry Rollins decided not be silent about her concerns:
I know [Ted] is still doing the same things to someone; just don't know who the victim is. I wrote Holly an anonymous letter when I heard she was marrying Ted. I told her he had abused a young boy, and he would do it again. I sent it to her from Asheville, North Carolina. I don't know what she thought or if she heeded the earning. I fear Ethan was Ted's interest in marrying her. I wonder if Ethan is alright.
Ethan Matheson is the same age as Sarah Rollins, one of two daughters (along with Emma Rollins) that Ted and Sherry Rollins had together. He now is a freshman at Colorado State University, one of the schools that soon will be home to The Grove, the banner under which Campus Crest builds student apartment complexes.
Sherry Rollins says her daughter and Ethan Matheson have become fairly good friends. "Sarah says that Ethan hates Ted and says he is crazy. I wish Zac could talk to Ethan. . . . I wonder if [Ted] has gotten to Ethan."
Did Ethan Matheson become a victim when his mother married Ted Rollins? We do not have a sure answer to that question, but Sherry Rollins provides important history:
Ted got with Holly when Ethan was 8 years old. Ted had met Holly and Ethan, as Ethan was a little boy in Sarah's class at school. He came to our house for Sarah's birthday party, with his mom and dad. We always saw them at school, at events. So when [Sarah, Emma, and I] left Greenville, Ethan was 8 years old. Ted moved in with Holly and Ethan when Ethan was 9 or 10.
I sent her the letter in 2005, after my divorce--so Ethan was by then 10 years old. I told her I was afraid that Ted might harm him, as he had already done to another boy. I never signed my name and signed it as someone concerned about the safety of her child.
(To be continued)
|Phillip Marshall and his children|
The bodies of Phillip Marshall, his two children, and the family dog were found on February 2, and officials quickly determined it was a murder-suicide. But the Washington, D.C.-based Wayne Madsen Report (WMR) has found evidence that contradicts the official finding. WMR reports that Marshall might have possessed something in his Murphys, California, home that prompted someone to commit murder. Also, the community in Calaveras County is pushing for the sheriff's office to conduct a more thorough investigation.
Marshall was the author of several books that questioned the official story of 9/11. His most recent work, The Big Bamboozle: 9/11 and the War on Terror was released in 2012. But WMR reports that Marshall was working on a new book, and that might have led to his death.
Wayne Madsen's reporting is available by subscription at his Web site, but we have received permission to quote from his work on the Marshall case. Writes Madsen:
It is known that Marshall was working on a fourth book. Marshall told a close friend shortly before his death: "You're not going to believe the stuff I'm going to have in the next book."
Forensics of the case do not seem to add up to murder-suicide--and simple logistics also raise troubling questions. Reports Madsen:
WMR has obtained exclusive evidence that 9/11 analysis author Philip Marshall was right-handed. The Calaveras County Sheriff's Department quickly concluded that Marshall shot his two children, his dog, and himself in the left side of his head with a 9 mm Glock.
Whoever killed Marshall may have been tracking his daily routine. During the weekdays, Marshall's son Alex and daughter Macaila, and their dog "Suki," stayed with Marshall's estranged wife Sean at a condominium that Phil Marshall rented for his wife in the town of Angels Camp. The town is closer to the Bret Harte High School in nearby San Andreas than is the more remote subdivision of Forest Meadows outside of Murphys.
On weekends, however, the children stayed with Marshall at his home in Forest Meadows. But during the last week of January, Marshall's estranged wife was in Turkey on a trip paid for by Marshall to help his soon-to-be ex-wife establish an import business specializing in Turkish saffron, scented soaps, and linen. If Marshall was targeted during the weekday, the assailants may have been unaware of the presence of Marshall's children on a Thursday night (January 31) at the Forest Meadows home. Surprised by the presence of the children, they were shot, along with the noisy Shih-tzu.
What might have been in the Marshall home--or what did someone think was in the home? That might be the central question of the case, and Madsen examines it:
After WMR investigated the area around the Marshall home on February 13 and discovered a number of empty banker's boxes at the front door, we were informed that later that evening, someone broke into the house via a sliding door at the rear of the home in the gated community of Forest Meadows.
The next day, two family members and a friend of Marshall's estranged wife reportedly entered the home and rifled through drawers and boxes of papers in the garage in search of something. Forest Meadows Homeowners Association president David Turner was alerted to their presence and told them they had no permission to enter the premises. Turner also remarked that they "were making quite a mess." According to a neighbor, the estranged in-laws claimed they were looking for bills that had to be paid. It is known that Marshall was working on a fourth book. Marshall told a close friend shortly before his death: "You're not going to believe the stuff I'm going to have in the next book."
Marshall's friends are not sure what happened to his computer, with some reporting it is being held by the Sheriff's office and others claiming it is in the possession of Marshall's estranged wife. WMR has obtained a web posting from an in-law of Marshall's that states that in dealing with members of the press, high school friends of Marshall's children are to answer: ". . . this is a result of a DIAGNOSED (caps in original) mentally ill person getting their hands on a gun." There is no record of Marshall being diagnosed with a mental illness. He had only been treated temporarily in the past for depression.
Marshall apparently was well known and well liked in the community, and his friends are pushing for answers:
WMR has been contacted by a number of Calaveras County residents who have expressed outrage over the unprofessional and quick investigation by Calaveras County Sheriff Gary Kuntz of the shooting deaths of 9/11 analysis author Philip Marshall, his two teenage children -- Alex and Macaila -- and the family dog.
Kuntz, a native of North Dakota who enjoys dancing to German music, is loosely affiliated with a group of Western states' sheriffs called "county supremacists," offshoots of the Western state sheriffs-led "Sagebrush Rebellion" of the 1970s and 80s. One Calaveras County resident said many believed Kuntz to be a "prepper" and "truther." Prepper is the slang term for people who are prepared for everything from Armageddon to an economic collapse. "Truther" is a pejorative term for those who believe the government hid important facts about the 9/11 attack.
As news spreads around the county about the quick conclusion by Kuntz that Marshall shot his two children, his dog, and then himself with a 9 mm Glock, for which Marshall previously claimed he did not possess ammunition, other details about the case are beginning to show that the Sheriff's Department is, as local critics claim, incompetent. For example, Marshall was shot through the left side of his head. However, people who knew Marshall have come forward claiming that they knew the retired United Airlines pilot to be right-handed. They saw him throw baseballs and footballs with his right hand and one said he did not know Marshall to be ambidextrous but strictly right-handed.
|VictoryLand in Macon County|
Our guess is that the opinion in Ex parte State of Alabama (CR-12-0607), which was released last week, is not meant to be taken seriously. Its central message--that a trial-court judge must issue a search warrant whether he finds probable cause or not--is so flagrantly unconstitutional that future high courts are likely to ignore the ruling, knowing that it can't possibly set precedent.
A close reading of the opinion, which can be viewed at the end of this post, leaves the impression that it is a politically driven fraud upon the public. The document seems to be targeted only at VictoryLand and its owner, Milton McGregor, with no basis in actual law or concern about broader application.
Ex parte State of Alabama is our equivalent to the Bush v. Gore ruling that decided the 2000 presidential election. In that instance, the U.S. Supreme Court, in so many words, said, "This is a one-time ruling that is to have no precedential bearing on future cases. We had a desired outcome in mind, and we couldn't reach it via established law, so we pulled this out of our fannies."
That is essentially what the Alabama Supreme Court is saying with its VictoryLand ruling. The opinion is 46 pages long, but it boils down to these words that are found on page 44:
The Alabama Constitution and the Alabama Legislature decide the criminal law applicable in each of the 67 counties in this State. A circuit judge is not free to frustrate the enforcement of the criminal law by refusing to issue warrants necessary or appropriate to its enforcement in his or her circuit.
That would be news to the gentlemen who wrote the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects against unlawful searches and seizures. The Fourth Amendment requires that any warrant be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause. If a judge finds that probable cause is lacking, it is his duty to "frustrate" overzealous law-enforcement officers and protect the targets of unlawful searches.
Macon County Circuit Judge Thomas Young made it clear that he found probable cause to be lacking when representatives from the office of Attorney General Luther Strange approached him seeking a search warrant for VictoryLand. Following are Young's exact words, included in his response to Strange's petition for a writ of mandamus with the Alabama Supreme Court:
In the instant case, given the fact that the Constitutional Amendment which provides for bingo being played at Victoryland allows the Sheriff to make a determination as to the nature of the bingo, and further, given the fact that he has publicly declared the machines presently located at that location to comply with the Supreme Court guidance in Cornerstone, there is clearly a lack of sufficient probable cause to warrant such an extraordinary writ.
Here is the crux of Young's finding in ruling against Strange's application for a search warrant:
The Petitioner, in essence, is asking this Court to sign an Order declaring these machines to be illegal, when there has been no such decision on this issue by any Court.
Is Young correct when he states that no court has ruled that the machines at VictoryLand constitute illegal activity? He must be because the Alabama Supreme Court does not counter that statement anywhere in its 46-page ruling. In fact, the high court acknowledges in a footnote on page 28 of its opinion that Alabama law on electronic bingo is so muddled that Young had almost no way of knowing what the law prohibits--much less that the evidence before him represented probable cause that the law was being violated. From the high court's footnote:
A judge considering an application for a search warrant necessarily must determine what it is that the law prohibits and then decide whether the evidence before the judge amounts to "probable cause" to believe that the conduct or items at issue fall within that prohibition. In the typical dispute over the propriety of a search warrant, the latter, factual issue predominates. The issue of what it is that extant law prohibits typically is a function solely of the terms of an applicable criminal statute and commonly is not in question. Here, however, the question of exactly what the law prohibits is at the fore and is a function not only of criminal statutes prohibiting "slot machines" and "gambling devices" but also of constitutional provisions permitting "bingo."
Faced with unclear law, and affidavits from Strange's underlings that he apparently determined were of dubious value, Young took a conservative approach and denied the search-warrant application. In so doing, he tried to spare a private enterprise from a government intrusion that he felt was unlawful.
You might think that our all-Republican Supreme Court--made up of conservatives who presumably want to keep government out of citizens' lives--would support such a cautious approach. But you would be wrong.
Starting on page 34 of its opinion, the Alabama Supreme Court lists eight issues upon which Young erred in denying Luther Strange's search warrant. Throughout 12 pages of explanation on these issues, the Supreme Court does not cite one Alabama case that supports its contention that Young erred.
In fact, the entire opinion includes only one citation to relevant Alabama law regarding Young's findings--and the high court butchers that. The case in question is styled Ex parte Nice, 407 So.2d 874 (Ala., 1981), and the court cited it in an effort to show that Young's denial of a search-warrant application represented "judicial usurpation of power" and "a gross disruption in the administration of criminal justice."
That line of thinking, to put it kindly, is preposterous. On page 34 of its opinion, the Alabama Supreme Court cites Marbury v. Madison, one of the most famous cases in American history, for its proposition that "it is a judge's duty to acknowledge what the law is and to decide how it applies to the facts before him." That is precisely what Young did, so how is that a "judicial usurpation of power."
The high court also acknowledges that Young was correct in stating that Strange could pursue a warrantless seizure under his "plain view" authority--if he truly believed the machines were operating illegally. Therefore, how did Young contribute to a "gross disruption in the administration of criminal justice"?
In fact, the Alabama Supreme Court violated the primary finding in Nice. Here is the crux of that case:
We state again that only the rarest of circumstances merit intervention by mandamus. . . . We also point out that circumstances involving alleged errors of judgment, or errors in the exercise of judicial discretion, would not constitute grounds for invoking supervisory mandamus.
Law does not get much more clear than that: Mandamus is appropriate in only the "rarest of circumstances and is not to be invoked for "alleged errors of judgment" or "errors in the exercise of judicial discretion." So why did the Alabama Supreme Court cite eight errors in judgment that Young allegedly committed? Perhaps it's because mandamus is not all that rare when it is used to help Luther Strange. Perhaps it's because our high court, which was unmasked as corrupt in the infamous ExxonMobil ruling of 2007, has no problem violating its own precedent--when it serves certain political purposes.
Judge Young clearly did not "frustrate" the enforcement of criminal law. He simply refused to rubber stamp a search-warrant application that he found to be lacking probable cause. He had the authority to make such a finding and the duty to protect VictoryLand from an unlawful search. That left Luther Strange with multiple options: (1) Conduct a "plain view" seizure; (2) Rework his search-warrant application to meet the standards of probable cause.
If the Alabama Supreme Court's ruling was not about the frustration of law enforcement, what was it about? We can come to only one conclusion: This is a continuation of the crusade against non-Indian gaming that former Governor Bob Riley and his allies launched in 2008. It's driven by the fact that Indian gaming interests, as admitted by GOP felon Jack Abramoff in his 2011 book, poured some $20 million into Alabama to get Riley elected. Luther Strange is Riley's most visible ally currently in office, and he has picked up where the former governor left off--with a blatantly unlawful effort to protect market share for Indian gaming interests.
This is about payoffs, paybacks, kickbacks, bribery, and all sorts of other ugly words. It also might be about extortion if Indian gaming interests are getting their way by holding damaging information over the heads of Bob Riley and his allies. It clearly has nothing to do with the law. And anyone who seriously reads the Alabama Supreme Court's opinion can see that.
|The Grove at Orono, Maine|
Residents at The Grove in Orono, Maine, have complained about mold, broken water pipes, power outages, faulty appliances, inadequate heating units, and more. Town officials vowed to investigate the problems and held a closed-door meeting with Campus Crest officials in late January. According to press reports, more than a dozen students are considering legal action.
How might UMaine students fare in a court battle with Charlotte-based Campus Crest?
Well, we know that CEO Ted Rollins belongs to one of the nation's wealthiest family--the folks behind Orkin Pest Control and parent company Rollins Inc. in Atlanta--and he has a history of using the justice system in an abusive fashion. That's what he did in the Rollins v. Rollins divorce case, which produced a grossly unlawful final judgment here in Shelby County, Alabama, and led to Ted Rollins' ex wife (Sherry Carroll Rollins) and two daughters (Sarah and Emma Rollins) winding up on food stamps. Based on a report I received yesterday afternoon, utilities had been turned off at the Rollins household in Birmingham.
We also know that Ted Rollins has a history of treating young people like punching bags--literally and figuratively. In the literal sense, Rollins was convicted for assault in the vicious 1995 beating of his 16-year-old stepson, Zac Parrish, in Franklin County, North Carolina. Under relevant state law, the beating constituted an act of child abuse, although Rollins never was charged with that. He was, however, investigated in 1993 for child sexual abuse involving the same stepson, based on a citizen complaint.
Speaking figuratively, we know that Ted Rollins has heaped ongoing abuse upon Sarah and Emma Rollins--his own flesh and blood, who now are ages 18 and 15, respectively. A judge in Greenville, South Carolina--where Sherry Rollins initiated divorce proceedings--issued a bench warrant for Ted Rollins' arrest, based on failure to pay child support. Court records show that Ted Rollins was a deadbeat dad for more than two years.
Once the girls were forced to flee with their mother to Alabama--because Ted Rollins failed to pay court-ordered mortgage and insurance payments on the marital home--the financial abuse got even worse. Here in Shelby County, Ted Rollins filed a child-support affidavit claiming he made $50,000 a year working at a mortgage company in Brentwood, Tennessee--and that was his only source of income. Perjury on the sworn document, called a CS-41, could not be more clear, public records show that Ted Rollins owned multiple private jet craft and held ownership stakes in at least two companies when the affidavit was signed. But Ted Rollins never has been held accountable for lying under oath, and the cheat job cost his daughters hundreds of thousands of dollars in support, to which they were legally entitled over the course of their childhoods.
A number students at the University of Maine want out of their leases at The Grove and say they are willing to go to court. Do they have valid legal claims? Our research indicates the answer is yes, and we will be taking a closer look at the UMaine problems in upcoming posts.
Does that mean the students are likely to prevail in court? Not necessarily. Our reporting has shown that all too many court cases around the country are decided on issues that have nothing to do with facts or laws. They often are decided by virtue of one party's willingness, and ability, to gain unlawful favor with a judge.
Before UMaine students file legal claims against Campus Crest Communities, they might want to give Sherry Carroll Rollins a call in Birmingham, Alabama. She was married to the company's CEO for 14 years and knows what it is like to fight him, and the Rollins family resources, in a court of law.
Learning about Sherry Rollins' experience has been quite an education for me. It should be required reading for all college students who have, or are thinking about, signing a lease with The Grove.
(To be continued)
|Macon County Judge Thomas Young|
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange must not be too confident that the results of his raid on the VictoryLand casino will hold up. He shouldn't be, of course, given that the Alabama Supreme Court acted in a flagrantly unconstitutional fashion when it ordered Macon County Circuit Judge Thomas Young to approve a search warrant on VictoryLand.
The new findings of a state regulatory board provide VictoryLand with additional ammunition for its argument that electronic-bingo machines at the facility legal. Meanwhile, Strange is seeking to have Judge Young removed from the case.
How will it all shake out? We will know more on March 19, when a hearing is set on VictoryLand's motion to have its property returned.
We know this much already: Luther Strange is acting like a desperate man--and perhaps he has good reason to behave that way. After all, the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC) has announced that it approved a liquor license for the VictoryLand casino. In making its ruling, ABC found that it could not conclude the activities at VictoryLand are illegal.
On one hand, the ABC ruling might seem like a moot point, in the aftermath of Strange's raid. But Charlanna Spencer, an attorney for the casino, said the ABC decision supports VictoryLand’s argument that it is operating within the law. Attorneys for casino owner Milton McGregor are likely to emphasize that in their argument at the March 19 hearing.
Is VictoryLand likely to have its property returned? Strange must be concerned about it because he is asking Judge Young to recuse himself. Reports the Montgomery Advertiser:
Deputy Attorney General Sonny Reagan, in the motion, questions whether Young can be fair and impartial.
“Judge Young’s cumulative record of clearly erroneous actions requiring reversal by the Supreme Court of Alabama in this and previous matters concerning alleged illegal gambling activities at the VictoryLand casino, together with his repeated criticisms of state officials seeking to enforce Alabama’s anti-gambling laws against VictoryLand, would cause any reasonable person to question Judge Young’s impartiality in matters pertaining to gambling at VictoryLand,” Reagan wrote.
The AG's recusal motion has a few problems. One, Young's ruling on the search-warrant application was not clearly erroneous. It was a discretionary ruling supported by relevant facts and law. It also was supported by the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, which denied the AG's petition for a writ of mandamus. That the Alabama Supreme Court ultimately granted mandamus does not remotely require Young's recusal; we are aware of no evidence indicating that Judge Young has a conflict of interest or personal bias against the state. Two, the mere fact that Young ruled against the AG on a search warrant does not justify recusal, under the law. Three, even the Alabama Supreme Court found in its 46-page ruling that the law is muddled on electronic bingo, raising this question: How could Young be expected to find probable cause that a law was being violated when even the state's high court cannot seem to identify solid law related to electronic bingo in Macon County?
From a public-relations standpoint, the AG's recusal motion makes him look like a world-class hypocrite. Reports the Montgomery Advertiser:
Joe Espy, an attorney representing VictoryLand, noted that the state opposed a similar recusal motion in Houston County last year. The Houston County Economic Development Authority requested Circuit Judge Mike Conaway to step away from a case involving electronic bingo at the Center Stage facility near Dothan. The group alleged Conaway had ties to local businessmen who were anti-gambling and had been appointed by Gov. Bob Riley, who initiated efforts to shut down gambling in the state.
At the time, Attorney General Luther Strange’s office argued that even if proof of such allegations could be found that would not disqualify Conaway from the case.
“The state’s position was adamant that the judge not be recused,” Espy said, accusing the attorney general of being more interested in winning the case “rather than being consistent and fair.”
Our guess is that Judge Young will refuse to step away from the case, and in our view, that would be the correct decision. If Strange puts the matter before his buddies on the Alabama Supreme Court, they might force Young to recuse.
But that brings us to perhaps the two key questions on the VictoryLand matter: How long will the Alabama Supreme Court continue to overrule circuit judges--not to mention the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals--so that Luther Strange can have his way? Will the state's high court reach a point where even it is embarrassed by an AG's office that clearly is driven by political motivations?
Luther Strange's actions in recent days indicate those questions are firmly planted in the back of his mind. He is leading the state's judiciary toward a potential PR disaster. How long will the public tolerate a high court that repeatedly abuses procedure by substituting its discretion for that of local judges? How long will the public tolerate a high court that puts its stamp of approval on government intrusions that appear to be unlawful because they are not grounded in probable cause?
Alabamians long have displayed a preference for control at the local level, for the authority of small government over the heavy hand of big government. Alabamians long have cast disapproving eyes at government intrusions on private affairs. That means the ice, at some point, is likely to get thin under the feet of Luther Strange and the Alabama Supreme Court.
We might be reaching that point pretty soon.
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The most recent example comes with Strange's statements about the impact of the Alabama Supreme Court's recent decision that forced a circuit judge to sign a search warrant for the VictoryLand casino in Macon County. Strange proclaimed in a press release that the ruling was a final determination that electronic bingo is illegal in Alabama and should "end the debate."
Strange's comments, to put it mildly, are a crock of barnyard excrement. How do we know? The words of the Alabama Supreme Court prove it. And those are the same justices who were willing to stretch the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment past the breaking point to give "Big Luther" a search warrant.
First, let's consider Strange's full statement to the public about what the search-warrant ruling meant:
This decision should end the debate on whether so-called 'electronic bingo' is illegal. It is illegal and local officials cannot create rules to make it legal. The only question now is whether the Legislature will enact tough penalties so that people will think twice before they engage in large-scale slot-machine gambling in the future.
How far off base is the attorney general on this one? About as far off base as you can get, given that the ruling had almost nothing to do with the alleged illegality of electronic-bingo machines at VictoryLand--or anywhere else in Alabama. How do I know? Well, I read the Supreme Court's opinion, and I invite readers to do the same; it's available at the end of this post.
Ironically, one reason the high court issued a writ of mandamus in the case is that it found Circuit Judge Thomas Young erred when he claimed the attorney general's office essentially was asking him to declare the VictoryLand machines illegal. In fact, the Supreme Court found, the issue was whether probable cause existed for a search warrant--nothing more, nothing less. From page 40 of the text:
Judge Young errs as a matter of law in refusing to issue the warrant in this case on the ground that to do so would be "in essence ... declaring these machines to be illegal." The quoted premise is incorrect. The issuance of a search warrant does not constitute a binding adjudication that an offense has occurred or a binding declaration that an activity or item is illegal. It is only a determination for purposes of the issuance of the search warrant.
The Supreme Court did not stop there. It explained that its ruling was not a finding that VictoryLand's activities were illegal--and it certainly was not a determination about electronic bingo in general:
As explained in Marshall v. Herndon, discussed supra, the issuance of a search warrant is not binding on either the court itself or the parties in an ensuing criminal case in which the defendant wishes to question whether an activity or item is illegal. See also, e.g., United States v. Del Valle, 587 F.2d 699, 701(5th Cir. 1079) (explaining that decision whether to issue search warrant is limited to the question of the issuance of the warrant and does not dispose of the issue whether the defendant did in fact commit the alleged crime).
Let's boil this down to its essence and compare the statements of Luther Strange to those of the Alabama Supreme Court:
Luther Strange: This decision should end the debate on whether so-called 'electronic bingo' is illegal. It is illegal and local officials cannot create rules to make it legal.
Alabama Supreme Court: The issuance of a search warrant does not constitute a binding adjudication that an offense has occurred or a binding declaration that an activity or item is illegal.
If you live in Alabama and sense an odd sensation in your hindquarters, it's probably because Luther Strange is blowing smoke up your rectum.
We have shown, beyond a doubt, that Alabama's chief law-enforcement officer is willing to lie to gain a public-relations edge in the battle over electronic bingo. Why does Strange need a public-relations edge? Probably because even he realizes the machines at VictoryLand are legal, based on a constitutional amendment allowing electronic bingo in Macon County.
A reasonable Alabamian should ask this question: If Luther Strange is willing to lie in an official press release about the Supreme Court's actions, what else is he lying about? How deep does Luther Strange's dishonesty go?
Thanks largely to the actions of incompetent law-enforcement officials, however, one of my favorite teams has almost no chance to make noise in the postseason this year.
We are talking about East Tennessee State University (ETSU), which generally has been among the top two or three teams in the Atlantic Sun Conference over the past eight years or so. The Bucs were picked toward the middle of the pack this season, but they still figured to be a dangerous team once the A-Sun Tournament rolled around.
Any hopes for the 2012-13 ETSU team, however, pretty much ended last November when senior guards Marcus Dubose and Sheldon Cooley were arrested on drug charges and dismissed from the team. But then, as the season was winding down, we learned that the charges against Cooley had been dropped. And the charges against Dubose look shaky because of a questionable seizure that led to the firing of a university postal employee.
In the case of Cooley, prosecutors pretty much wound up saying, "Oops, our bad. We didn't have a case against you." In the case of Dubose, prosecutors seem to be saying, "Yes, a guy in the post office screwed up big time by opening a package that was addressed to you--and that presents slight constitutional problems. But we still hope to bring a case. Would you mind pleading guilty to something . . . anything?"
What's the fallout from all of this? Well, Sheldon Cooley had started for much of his career and was seen as ETSU's best all-around player. Dubose, who played for two seasons at a junior college in California, was ETSU's top returning scorer and best outside shooter.
The 2012-13 Bucs were not expected to be a powerhouse because of an inexperienced front court--and that problem became worse when 6-8 senior center Lukas Poderis went down for the year with a torn Achilles tendon in a preseason scrimmage. But a veteran backcourt, led by Cooley and Dubose, was expected to make ETSU a tough, competitive outfit.
So what happened? With Cooley and Dubose gone two games into the season, ETSU got off to its worst start in 37 years. The Bucs finished the regular season with a 10-21 record and are expected to make a quick exit when the A-Sun Tournament begins today in Macon, Georgia. ETSU opens play at 1:30 p.m. CST tomorrow as the No. 6 seed, facing No. 3 Stetson. The host school, Mercer, is the No. 1 seed and a solid favorite to win the title and the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Why does this matter to me? I grew up in Missouri and have lived for 30-plus years in Alabama. Why do I care about a school that is so far on Tennessee's outskirts that it's almost in Virginia?
Well, that's a long story. ETSU's coach is Murry Bartow, and I have known him since the late 1970s, when he was the starting point guard at Berry High School and I was a rookie sportswriter, fresh out of college, at the Birmingham Post-Herald. Murry's father, the late Gene Bartow, was the Hall of Fame coach who started the athletics program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), the school where I would go on to work as an editor for almost 20 years.
If I get hit by a bus tomorrow, I will go to the Great Beyond knowing that Gene Bartow was one of my all-time favorite humans--and the Bartows, as a group, were one of my all-time favorite families. I've gotten to know probably a dozen or so members of the extended clan--and maybe it's because we share Missouri roots--but I've always found them to be thoroughly likable, decent people. And that includes my friend, Murry. (As for those Missouri roots, Gene Bartow and his wife, Ruth, are from the small Show-Me towns of Browning and Galt, respectively. Murry was born in Warrensburg, Mo., home to Central Missouri State and one of the early stops on his father's coaching tour.)
Here's another reason I pull for ETSU: Murry Bartow started his head coaching career by following in his father's sizable footsteps at UAB. It was a thankless, almost impossible task, but Murry did a solid job. His first three Blazer teams reached postseason tournaments, and the program was on an uptick until a series of season-ending injuries to key players caused his record to level out.
Despite playing with a short-handed roster, Murry had only one losing season. And over six seasons, he had the third best record in Conference USA. That league has been watered down in an era of conference re-alignment. But when Murry was at UAB, his competitors included Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette, Memphis, Charlotte, DePaul, and St. Louis.
How good was Conference USA back then? There is a good chance that six of the seven teams mentioned above will make this year's NCAA Tournament. UAB had one of the smallest budgets for men's basketball in the league, but only Cincinnati and Charlotte had better records during Murry's tenure.
Did UAB and its administration, led then by President W. Ann Reynolds, appreciate his efforts? Not exactly. Reynolds called Murry at home one night to promise that his job was safe, and about one month later, allowed him to be forced out by a buffoonish athletics director named Herman Frazier.
(Note: UAB does not deserve fair treatment, but I will provide it anyway. Technically, the university did not cheat Murry Bartow out of his job. Coaches tend to work on contracts, and according to press reports, the university fulfilled its financial duty after letting Murry go with one year left on his deal. College coaching is a famously unstable profession, and even though Murry Bartow did a solid job in a brutal conference and did not deserve to be forced out, the university was on solid legal ground in letting him go--as long as it met contractual obligations. I, however, was not a contract employee, and my termination was about as ugly as it gets--filled with age and gender discrimination, blatant First Amendment violations, tortious interference, and more.)
My concern now is that Murry Bartow might be on shaky footing at ETSU--and I don't much like seeing my friends get canned. That's especially true when incompetent law-enforcement officials, to a great extent, caused the problem.
Consider the charges against Sheldon Cooley and Marcus Dubose. Here is how the Johnson City Press described them:
Dubose was charged with possession of schedule VI drugs for resale after arriving to pick up [a package at the post office]. He and Cooley, his roommate, were also charged with possession of drug paraphernalia when agents found scales commonly used to weigh marijuana in their on-campus apartment.
What do we learn from that? Sheldon Cooley faced only one charge, and it was based on the fact that scales were found in his apartment, which he shared with someone else. According to law enforcement, scales are commonly used for measuring drugs prior to sale. But last time I checked, scales can be used for a lot of things--most of which are not illegal. And based on press reports, we have no proof that the scales belonged to Cooley or that he ever used them for anything related to drugs.
Dubose's actions, on the other hand, seem more dubious. One package addressed to him reportedly contained marijuana; another reportedly contained $10,000. But how did law enforcement come to know that? Because a postal employee unlawfully opened one of the packages.
Is it possible that Cooley and Dubose were up to no good? Yes, it is. But the case against Cooley already has fallen apart. And it's hard to imagine the case against Dubose holding up in light of Fourth Amendment protections against illegal search and seizure. The performance of police and prosecutors in Johnson City, Tennessee, would have to improve dramatically in order to earn a comparison to the Keystone Kops.
Cooley and Dubose have had their senior seasons of basketball ruined. They left school and apparently were taken off scholarship, meaning they are unlikely to finish their degrees. And they might never regain their reputations; Google searches for years will bring up stories about drug arrests that never should have happened, under the law.
Meanwhile, ETSU is stumbling to the worst season in Murry Bartow's 10-year tenure. With Sheldon Cooley and Marcus Dubose on hand all season, the Bucs probably would have won six to eight additional games and be headed for a winning record. But law-enforcement rogues helped ensure the season would turn in a dark direction.
Murry Bartow has had some darned good teams at Johnson City. In his fourth through eighth seasons, the Bucs had records of 24-10, 19-13, 23-10, 20-15, and 24-12. ETSU has been to the NCAA Tournament three times, the NIT once, and the CIT once--a solid record for any coach in a league that receives only one bid each year to the NCAAs.
I'm hopeful that overall record will keep my friend's job safe for now. But even under a best-case scenario, he will be under intense heat when next season arrives.
Does court-related incompetence have real-world consequences? It sure as heck does--even in the unreal world of college athletics.
I hope Sheldon Cooley and Marcus Dubose find good lawyers and sue the holy hell out of somebody. If the world has a shred of justice, they will have a year of college eligibility restored--and they will receive serious financial compensation from some source.
If Murry Bartow loses his job as a result of what happened to his two star players, I hope he sues the hell out of somebody. You can rest assured the author of Legal Schnauzer stands ready to make sure that story gets told far and wide.
Meanwhile, I will be pulling for ETSU to pull off an upset win or two this week in the A-Sun Tournament. It's not likely to happen, but they call it March Madness for a reason.
A Wall Street analyst threatened to lie about comments she made to Legal Schnauzer regarding the criminal history of Campus Crest Communities CEO Ted Rollins.
Paula Poskon serves as an analyst for Robert W. Baird and Company, one of the underwriters for Campus Crest Communities' $380-million Wall Street IPO. When I told Poskon in an interview that Ted Rollins's background included a conviction for assault on his 16-year-old stepson and a social services investigation for possible child sexual abuse, she audibly gasped and said, "Oh, my God, I wasn't aware of any of that." After stating that she would conduct research on the matter, Poskon stated that investors would find such matters "very concerning," especially because Campus Crest's target market, as a developer of student housing near college campuses, is young people.
In a follow up conversation, Poskon was adamant that I should not use her comments and even threatened to lie about what she had said in a tape-recorded phone conversation. (See first video at the end of this post.) Here is part of our exchange:
PP: But I’m not in position to comment on what you know. . . . To quote me specifically about Mr. Rollins or Campus Crest, in the context of his personal life . . . I don’t know. I can’t comment on something I don’t know about.
RS: You did comment, though, on how investors might see this. We talked about the fact it involved young people, and that’s relevant. It was on the record, and I’m going to use it.
PP: I think that’s very unfortunate. If I get calls on it, I will dispute that.
What does it say about "Wall Street values" when a prominent analyst, one who is quoted in major newspapers and appears on cable news programs, threatens to lie about comments she made on the record?
Poskon proceeded to claim I had not properly identified myself when arranging the interview--even though I gave her my name, my location, my background as a journalist who writes at a blog and several national Web sites, and identified the general subject matter. My response to that was simple:
RS: I said right up front that I’m a journalist, a reporter. It’s a story I’m reporting on, and your insights are important.
In so many words, Poskon was saying that she never would have agreed to the interview if she had known it was with a real journalist who might ask something other than softball questions.
It soon became clear that the "research" Poskon had promised to conduct involved calling Ted Rollins or someone close to him and allowing them to intimidate her. That's because she labeled my reporting as "personal," which is a charge I've heard before from Rollins associates--even though I have no idea what it's supposed to mean, and apparently, Paula Poskon doesn't know either.
Was Dan Rather's reporting on the Nixon administration "personal"? Heck, I don't know, but it changed history. Was Sara Ganim's reporting "personal" when she broke the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State? Again, I have no idea, but she exposed one of the worst cases of child sexual abuse in our nation's history.
You can hear the conclusion to my conversation with Paula Poskon in the second video below. But for now, let's consider this question: Is my reporting on Ted Rollins personal? It might be, in the context that the Rollins v. Rollins divorce case, which launched my inquiry, took place in Shelby County--in the same jurisdiction where I live, in the same court where I've experienced the kind of judicial corruption that has been heaped on Sherry Carroll Rollins and her two daughters.
When Sherry Rollins contacted me about possible wrongdoing in her Shelby County divorce case, it resonated with me. I had been in that courthouse, and I know how some litigants can be railroaded there. I didn't write about Rollins v. Rollins until I had conducted extensive research to confirm Ms. Rollins' story. If that makes my reporting "personal," then I would say journalism needs more personal reporting like it.
Here is part of my exchange on this topic with Paula Poskon:
PP: From what you’ve said and the postings you sent, your writings sound extremely personal, not objective at all. I don’t know why that might be; I'm not making value judgments about what happened to you in the past. From my perspective, a total stranger . . . , your writing does not appear to be objective, it's very personal. . . . Once I saw that, it made me very concerned for your motives about wanting to quote me. That's why I respectfully ask you not to quote me with respect to Campus Crest or Ted Rollins.
RS: I respect the request, but it’s going to be denied. I’m going to move forward with my reporting. . . . I can tell you there is nothing personal about my reporting on Ted Rollins. I've never met the man . . .
PP: It appears to me that you have very strong opinions about this person, that I think you were calling for some substantiation, and I can’t provide it.
RS: I don’t need substantiation. I wanted to know how people in the investment world view this sort of thing, and that’s what we discussed . . .
PP: In hypothetical terms. The way I characterized it was in hypothetical terms.
RS: Well, I don’t know if it was hypothetical or not. I asked you specifically about Ted Rollins, and you said it was a concern that this involved young people.
|Prince Alwaleed bin Talal|
Does that mean Alwaleed is a dreadful human being because he is petty or because he is corrupt--or because he is both?
Let's consider the petty part first. In an article titled "The Richest People on the Planet 2013," Forbes has Alwaleed falling out of his usual place among the world's top 10. The prince, it seems, takes such lists seriously and was deeply offended to find himself ranked in a three-way tie for the 26th spot. From an article at moneynews.com:
Saudi Arabia richest man, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, claims he was short-changed in Forbes’ latest list of the world’s biggest billionaires, but the magazine is standing by its rankings in a nasty spat being played out in public.
Forbes said unnamed former employees of the prince told the magazine Alwaleed “systematically exaggerates his net worth by several billion dollars.”
In its article, Forbes said it couldn’t justify an estimate of Alwaleed’s wealth that would exceed $20 billion, a figure that drops him out of the coveted Top Ten list and places him at a more modest Number 28.
Alwaleed is so butt-hurt that he is threatening to take legal action--and one assumes he can afford a squadron of high-priced lawyers:
Alwaleed responded to the diminished Forbes ranking by getting lawyered up — a press release from the Private Office of His Royal Highness said the prince “has retained counsel,” and requested he be removed from the list altogether.
“Prince Alwaleed has taken this step as he felt he could no longer participate in a process which resulted in the use of incorrect data and seemed designed to disadvantage Middle Eastern investors and institutions,” the palace press release stated.
Forbes writer Kerry Dolan, who covers the world’s wealthiest people for the magazine, said Alwaleed’s response is the culmination of “what is now a quarter-century of intermittent lobbying, cajoling and threatening when it comes to his net worth listing.”
The prince apparently is used to getting his way, and that brings us to the corruption portion of our story. Sources tell Legal Schnauzer that Alwaleed might have played a central role in launching a bogus prosecution against Don Siegelman. (Note: Former Republican Congressman Bob Ney, of Ohio, says in a new book that the Siegelman case was "a travesty of justice." Ney served six terms in the U.S. House before being implicated in the Jack Abramoff scandal.)
Why would a Saudi billionaire care about what transpires at a federal courthouse in Montgomery, Alabama? Well, our sources still are connecting the dots, but it's important to keep in mind that Siegelman's co-defendant was Richard Scrushy, former CEO of Birmingham-based HealthSouth corporation.
Here might be the single biggest dot in the tangled Siegelman/Scrushy story: In 2000, HealthSouth signed a deal to manage a 400-bed rehabilitation hospital near Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The Saudi/HealthSouth story got lost in the larger scandal that engulfed Scrushy and other HealthSouth executives at the time, but the management deal left ill feelings in the Kingdom. A February 2004 article from accountingweb.com explains:
The Justice Department is now looking into whether HealthSouth officials offered bribes in an attempt to secure business in Saudi Arabia, which would be a violation of federal laws that prohibit such payments to secure business oversees.
Specifically, federal prosecutors are investigating a deal signed in 2000 by HealthSouth to manage a 400-bed rehabilitative hospital outside of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. HealthSouth, based out of Birmingham, AL, specializes in rehabilitative and surgical clinics and operates nearly 1,700 facilities, mostly in the U.S.
The Justice Department has been investigating fraud within the company that it puts at $2.7 billion, while the company’s own internal figures hover closer to $4.6 billion. Fifteen former executives have already pleaded guilty in the case, including five former chief financial officers. Founder and former chief executive Richard Scrushy has denied wrongdoing and will stand trial on 85 federal charges in August.
Scrushy, of course, was acquitted in the fraud trial, and our sources say that helped fuel Saudi rage about possible under-handed actions connected to the rehab hospital in Riyadh. From accountingweb.com:
The Wall Street Journal reported that HealthSouth issued a press release in 2000 announcing its agreement to manage the Saudi Arabian hospital. In the release, Scrushy said, "HealthSouth is proud to be part of this affiliation, the goal of which is to integrate the highest quality of rehabilitative health care into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with its strong cultural beliefs and traditions."
Now investigators are wondering if behind the scenes, kickbacks were offered to secure the deal. According to the Journal, the parties involved in the deal were not available for comment. However, Steven Miles, a lawyer close to the deal is cooperating with prosecutors looking into the matter. Miles is an expert in Saudi Arabian businesses at the Washington office of Baker Botts, the Journal reported.
What does all of this have to do with Don Siegelman, who currently resides at a federal prison in Oakdale, Louisiana, after being convicted of "crimes" that do not even exist in the U.S. code? We are still piecing together that part of the story. But Americans who care about the integrity of our justice system would be wise to learn more about a HealthSouth management deal that went sour in the Arabian desert.
(To be continued)
|The Grove at Orono, Maine|
Apparently it isn't much fun because several University of Maine students are considering legal action over these problems, and more, at The Grove apartment complex near the campus in Orono.
Why does this story resonate here in relatively balmy Alabama? The Grove is the banner under which Charlotte-based Campus Crest Communities builds and manages student-apartment complexes near some 40 universities around the country. Campus Crest CEO Ted Rollins belongs to one of the nation's wealthiest families--the folks behind Orkin Pest Control and parent company Rollins Inc. in Atlanta--and showed during an Alabama divorce case styled Rollins v. Rollins that he is willing to use the court system in an abusive fashion.
Are UMaine students about to be on the receiving end of courtroom cheat jobs like the one Sherry Carroll Rollins, Ted's ex wife, experienced here in Shelby County, Alabama? We might soon find out.
Published reports indicate students in Orono have plenty of reasons to be unhappy with the product that Ted Rollins' company turns out. From a Bangor Daily News report in late January:
Residents of The Grove, a new apartment complex that is home to hundreds of University of Maine students, experienced a series of problems last week as a result of the recent cold snap.
Among the inconveniences were power outages due to transformers too small to handle the amount of electricity being consumed, frozen water pipes and frozen sprinkler systems.
Residents pay an average monthly rent of $525 per person, and Campus Crest touts its facilities as featuring "fully loaded living," with amenities not normally found in college dorms. But some UMaine students say the amenities do not always include heat. Consider the experience of Chelsea MacDonald-Coffin, as reported by Maine Campus, the student newspaper:
One day after an interview and a tour of her apartment by Orono town officials, she sent The Maine Campus a photo of her bedroom window. There was a 2-inch-high chunk of ice on its inside, freezing it shut.
MacDonald-Coffin's problems do not end there--and Campus Crest's response to her concerns has been less than reassuring:
When Chelsea MacDonald-Coffin moved into her new apartment in September at The Grove in Orono, she didn’t expect mold in her bathroom.
She said complex officials hired a company to stop the mold by bringing in dehumidifiers. An employee of that company then told her the problem wouldn’t be resolved unless carpeting was redone.
“I brought the issues to a [visiting] corporate representative,” said MacDonald-Coffin, a second-year management student at the University of Maine. “She basically said that I didn’t know what I was talking about.”
William Murphy, Orono code enforcement director, said The Grove met building standards. But residents remain skeptical, especially since the entire complex was constructed in nine months:
The Grove has had problems with heating, electricity and mold that some tenants say is causing health problems. Last month, tenants were plunged in and out of darkness for a week because the heat pumps used in the complex overtaxed its electrical system.
The kinds of problems experienced — especially when winter hit — led tenants and others to believe that Campus Crest, which has about 40 properties nationwide, had built a facility designed for warmer climes. They questioned whether it met building standards for northeastern states such as Maine.
During an interview, Murphy described the permitting and inspection process leading to The Grove’s opening.
According to Murphy, The Grove was designed to the standards of the International Building Code for this climate district.
“It has to be updated for the area. I don’t know if they have something in Florida but let’s use Florida as an example,” he said. “You can’t build the same kind of housing development in Maine that you would in Florida.”
Some tenants say they are considering legal action. From a news report dated February 5:
As of this week, 15 to 20 tenants of the new Orono apartment complex who attend classes at the University of Maine have sought legal assistance on problems ranging from mold and higher than expected overage fees for electricity to substandard construction and staff entering apartments without providing the “reasonable notice” required by state law, according to Sean O’Mara, undergraduate student legal aid attorney.
“I would say most, if not all, do not want to continue their leases,” said O’Mara, who recently brought the Bangor law firm Pelletier & Faircloth into the effort to get the student tenants’ complaints resolved.
“I can say that the number of people trying to get out of their leases with the Grove [has been] much higher than what I’ve seen for Orchard Trails,” another Orono apartment complex largely populated by college students.
What form might legal action take?
“We’re looking at potential civil options for these students right now. I’m not precluding anything in particular,” O’Mara said. He said that he also is exploring potential violations of Maine’s Unfair Trade Practices Act, the state’s basic consumer protection law.
The Unfair Trade Practices Act prohibits businesses from using unfair or deceptive practices and can be enforced by the attorney general or by consumers who actually have lost money because of an unfair trade practice, according to the state attorney general’s website.
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Has Hubbard made good on that promise? Not exactly. In fact, a new report from Bill Britt of the Alabama Political Reporter shows that Hubbard is failing spectacularly.
Using financial data from open.alabama.gov, Britt shows that Hubbard increased spending in the speaker's office by 82.6 percent over Seth Hammett, his Democratic predecessor. But that is just a warm-up for the jaw-dropping numbers to follow.
Consider spending in the area of "outside political consultants": Under Hammett in 2008, the speaker's office spent $2,880. That figure skyrocketed to $135,820.74 under Hubbard in 2012. For Alabama taxpayers who need a little assistance with math, Britt does the heavy lifting--spending for political consultants increased under Hubbard by 4,700 percent.
Gee, how bad would it be if Hubbard was not such a "fiscal conservative"? Reports Britt:
A comparison of total spending for the Office of the Speaker of the House shows that Mike Hubbard has been anything but a fiscal conservative when it comes to spending the public’s money on the perks of his office.
Between the fiscal years 2008 (when Democrat Seth Hammett was Speaker) and fiscal year 2012 (the most recent complete year of spending under Hubbard), total taxpayer dollars spent on running the Office of the Speaker of House nearly doubled.
Total spending for the Office of the Speaker of the House increased 82.6 percent-- from $488,638 under Hammett to $892,492 under Hubbard last year. The office payroll line item increased 54.5 percent under Hubbard, from $364,014.30 in ’08 to $562,511 last year.
As for the astonishing spending on political consultants, much of that went to one man, David Azbell. Writes Britt:
Of the $135,820.74 in public money spent on outside contracts in Fiscal Year 2012, $96,000 of that was paid by Alabama taxpayers to Azbell Communications, the one-man operation run by David Azbell. Azbell was the co-writer of Hubbard’s vanity book publication, "Storming the Statehouse."
When it comes to furnishing his professional surroundings, Hubbard apparently has the opulent taste of a Las Vegas casino mogul. That is ironic, of course, for a Republican who claims to be against gambling on moral grounds:
Not figured into the double digit-growth of the Speaker’s Office is the tremendous amount that has gone into remodeling the State House and especially the Speaker’s suite of offices. Construction cost and decorating expenses have been hidden, and multiple requests for information have been denied.
The Speaker’s Office now adorned with new carpet, new paint and expanded spaces are just a few of the new trappings of power. The Speaker’s suite is outfitted with multiple flat-screen televisions, one completely dedicated to a continuous rotation of pictures featuring Mike Hubbard with political dignitaries. The Speaker routinely travels with an entourage and personal body guard, many times in two black SUV’s with tinted windows.
How is Mike Hubbard serving Alabama taxpayers? It seems he mostly is taking them on a financial joyride. Britt notes that the speaker's office has spent wildly "while Hubbard has worked to cut state workers, deny pay increases and downsize government for everyone else."
In other words, it's time for austerity in Alabama--unless you happen to be Mike Hubbard or one of his good buddies. Britt puts it in perspective by noting that Hubbard's fellow Republicans have been remarkably silent about the speaker's actions:
Where is the outcry from those who promised the voters of Alabama that they would end frivolous government spending? Hubbard has outspent Democrats by an unprecedented amount. Yet, not one peep is heard from his followers on the fourth floor of the State House, which has also been graciously remodeled.
No one dares stand-up to “Diamond Mike” because they fear retaliation. One can only hope that once those in the Tea Party and those who still stand for small government are made aware of his reckless spending they will take a stand.
|Sloan Bashinsky Jr.|
We are about to pass the third anniversary of the disappearance and death of prominent Alabama lawyer Major Bashinsky. We find no more reason to believe he actually committed suicide than there was three years ago.
Major Bashinsky was reported missing on March 3, 2010. Twelve days later, his body was pulled from a water hazard at Highland Park Golf Course on Birmingham's Southside. Nine days after that, law-enforcement authorities tied a neat bow on the case by proclaiming that Major Bashinsky had killed himself.
That means it will be three years ago tomorrow since we learned that the disappearance of Major Bashinsky was more than a missing-person case; it was a death case. Was it a homicide case? We might never know the answer to that question, but it certainly is a shaky suicide case.
A close review of the medical-examiner's report reveals a multitude of reasons to doubt the official finding. As regular readers know, we are not prone to blindly accept the word of officials connected to law enforcement, especially when documents present clear grounds to question their conclusions. That is why we have followed the Bashinsky story long after mainstream reporters quit writing about it. And it's why we plan to have additional posts in the future.
We start today by focusing on a curious figure in the "suicide" of Major Bashinsky--his older brother, Sloan Y. Bashinsky Jr.
Sloan Bashinsky Jr. has been a practicing lawyer, has written several books on legal issues, and now writes multiple blogs from his base in Key West, Florida. He long has said that he buys the official finding that his brother committed suicide. But one of the grounds he has cited for that belief is based on false information, according to our review of court documents.
What does that mean? I would suggest it means the public should take a closer look at a lawsuit involving the Bashinskys' late father, Sloan Bashinsky Sr., the man who built the company that produces Golden Flake snack foods.
Bashinsky Jr. clearly is a bright fellow, and he makes no effort to hide his quirks. He often writes of hearing in his dreams from angels and other celestial beings that he refers to as the "Board of Directors."
Both in his posts and in e-mails to me and my journalistic colleague, Lori Alexander Moore, Bashinsky Jr. has said that he believes Major Bashinsky committed suicide and used rope and duct tape to tie himself up to make it look like a murder. Bashinsky Jr. also has claimed that his brother was bisexual and killed himself because he feared someone was about to out him in a way that would ruin his reputation in and around the tony suburb of Mountain Brook.
Bashinsky Jr. long has discounted any notion that his brother's disappearance and death had any connection to a contentious lawsuit involving more than $37 million their father had invested in oil and gas wells with the Birmingham firm of W & H Investments. The lawsuit was styled Estate of Sloan Y. Bashinsky Sr., et al. v. W & H Investments, et al, and a Jefferson County judge approved a settlement on March 1, 2010. Two days later, Major Bashinsky was reported missing--and 12 days after that, his body was found in a water hazard at Highland Park Golf Course on Birmingham's Southside.
While his brother was missing, Bashinsky Jr. received a visit in Key West from William Cobb "Chip" Hazelrig, one of the partner's in W & H Investments and a man who had provided financial advice to the senior Bashinsky for about 20 years. Bashinsky Jr. wrote two posts about the visit in spring 2010 and described the "handshake" arrangement that Hazelrig and Bashinsky Sr. had lived by.
According to Bashinsky Jr., his father liked to work in such an informal fashion, and the lawsuit was a means for representatives of his estate to unnecessarily harass Hazelrig and his partner, Fred Wedell. Here are Bashinsky's Jr.'s thoughts on the lawsuit, based on his conversation with Chip Hazelrig on March 13, 2010, in Key West. Two days after the conversation, Major Bashinsky's body was discovered:
The way Chip described my father and their business relationship, there was no doubt my father knew Chip and liked him. Chip described what sounded to me like a spurious lawsuit my father’s widow, Joann, and my father’s accountant, Owen Sims, and the former CEO of my father’s company, John Stein, as Trustees of my father’s estate, had filed against Chip and his business partner. I told Chip it sounded like something those three would do, and said his loose-handshake business dealings with my father was something my father would do. When Chip told me of a meeting Joann and Stein had demanded my father attend with Chip, and of my father telling then at that meeting to stay out of his business dealings with Chip and his partner, I said that sounded like my father and was what had caused those three to sue Chip and his business partner after my father died and was out of the picture.
Bashinsky Jr. expanded on this theme in a post dated July 1, 2012. Here is his recollection of the visit he had with Chip Hazelrig in Key West. Near the end of this segment, Bashinsky Jr. again addresses the meeting that preceded the lawsuit against Hazelrig's company:
Mostly we talked about Chip’s business and friendship with my father, and only a little about Major, who had been missing a few days. I said I did not yet have any sense of what had happened to Major. Chip clearly loved my father. We talked maybe an hour. Part of it was about the lawsuit my father’s widow and estate and business lawyer and trustees had filed against Chip and his partner’s oil and gas company for an accounting; H & W I think was the company’s name. Chip said the accounting was pretty loose, my father liked to operate on a handshake, and he liked to roll the dice on oil and gas bets. Over the years he won more bets than he lost, did pretty well if you aggregated the big tax write-offs with the royalties the good wells paid out. Sounded like my father, doing it on a handshake. Chip said he and my father once got dragged to a meeting by the future plaintiffs mentioned above, and they grilled Chip and my father until he told them to run the potato chip business and he would run the oil and gas business. That, too, sounded just like my father.
Bashinsky Jr.'s take seems to be this: His father was perfectly happy with the way Hazelrig and Wedell managed his investments and wanted the trustees of the estate to butt out. A letter in the court file, however, presents a different view. It shows Bashinsky Sr. being concerned about the status of his investments and instructing Wedell to supply the necessary information to Owen Sims, his accountant, and John P. McKleroy Jr., his attorney from the Birmingham firm of Spain & Gillon. The full letter, written by Sloan Y. Bashinsky Sr. to Fred Wedell and dated July 20, 2004, can be viewed at the end of this post. It states:
I have reviewed a copy of the information which you furnished to John McKleroy concerning my investments with W & H Investments. In order for me to work on my estate disposition plan and to properly analyze current and potential income, along with associated liabilities, I need substantially more information than what you furnished. Enclosed is a list of information which I would appreciate you furnishing to me, along with a copy to John McKleroy and Owen Sims.
Thank you for your attention in this matter. I look forward to receiving this information.
Yours very truly,
Sloan Y. Bashinsky Sr.
Bashinsky Sr. died on August 2, 2005, and court records indicate he never received an adequate response to his letter. The estate followed up with another request for information on January 12, 2006, and when that response also was inadequate, it filed a lawsuit on June 20, 2006.
Our review of the court file indicates the estate never received much of the information it sought--and again, this involved a substantial sum, the proceeds from more than $37 million in oil and gas investments. Although issues in the case apparently were not resolved, the two sides reached a settlement in January 2010, and the court approved it on March 1, 2010.
Two days later, Major Bashinsky went missing.
We contacted Chip Hazelrig prior to publication of this post in an effort to interview him about various matters connected to the Bashinsky-estate lawsuit. He declined our interview request.
Bashinsky Lawsuit--Sloan Bashinsky Letter
But what happens when an apparent violator is a white Republican, with powerful ties to former Governor Bob Riley and his political machine? More specifically, what happens when the apparent violator is Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn)?
We might soon find out, in the wake of a report last week that Hubbard rigged the bid-law process to obtain a multimillion-dollar media contract with Auburn University. Buddy Mitchell, a former lobbyist for Auburn, says in a sworn statement that Hubbard received copies of competitors' proposals before winning a five-year multimedia contract for Auburn athletics in 2002. In fact, Mitchell states in an affidavit that he personally delivered competitors' proposals to Hubbard, and that allowed Hubbard to tailor his bid in order to win the contract. It's all in a report by Bill Britt of Alabama Political Reporter.
Mitchell was director of governmental affairs at Auburn from 1993 to 2004, and Hubbard worked in the university's sports-information department before joining Host Communications in 1990. Hubbard proceeded to wrestle the contract away from Host via a no-bid contract and formed the Auburn Network in 1994. By the early 2000s, Hubbard's company reportedly was struggling financially when he approached Mitchell for help after Auburn forced him to go through a competitive-bid process. Here is how Britt describes what happened next:
Mitchell said Hubbard first acknowledged to him that his company was on the verge of going bankrupt.
Initially, forced by Auburn to go through a competitive bid process for the first time, according to Mitchell’s statements, Hubbard was given access to all of his competitors' proprietary proposals prior to making his winning offer for the contract.
For years, it was speculated that Hubbard was given an unfair advantage in obtaining the Auburn contract. Mitchell, who was executive director of the Office of Governmental Affairs at Auburn from 1993 to 2004, said in a sworn affidavit that he personally delivered the competitors’ proposals to Hubbard.
If Mitchell's allegations are proven to be true, it's hard to imagine a more grotesque violation of the Alabama Competitive Bid Law. Attorney General Luther Strange--like Hubbard, a devout member of Team Riley--has proven that he treats the bid law seriously. In May 2011, all five members of the Bullock County Commission were arrested on felony charges of bid-law violations.
We reported on the Bullock County story and noted the political and socioeconomic climate surrounding the case:
The inquiry into Bullock County's finances started under the Riley administration, with Strange following through now on arrests. Is this payback for some slight that Riley perceived coming from Bullock County during his administration? Could this be part of a larger GOP plan to continue terrorizing Democrats in the Deep South?
To arrive at possible answers to those questions, it helps to understand the demographics of Bullock County. The county is 74.9 percent black, with a median household income of $24,440, well below the state average of $40,489. In the 2008 presidential election, Bullock County gave 74.2 percent of its vote to Barack Obama, with 25.7 percent to John McCain.
Bullock belongs to a strip of counties that starts to the northwest of Montgomery and runs to the capital city's southeast, representing what passes for a Democratic stronghold in Alabama.
Was the public trust grossly violated in the Bullock County case? Well, the five commissioners, combined, were alleged to have paid $85,000 for food and supplies without following the state bid law. That means each commissioner was responsible for roughly $17,000 worth of bid-law violations, although it's unclear that any of the commissioners personally benefited. Even Luther Strange must have realized the case was weak because he announced in February 2012 that he was dropping all charges.
Let's compare that to the case of Mike Hubbard. Here is how Bill Britt describes it:
In accepting Hubbard’s five-year, $8.5 million deal in 2002, Auburn, in turn, rejected a competitor’s bid that offered $12.5 million over the same period. That meant Auburn received $4 million less under Hubbard’s proposal than under the bid more financially beneficial to Auburn.
Translation: Hubbard "won" an $8.5-million contract that he probably would not have received without being able to tailor his proposal, based on under-the-table information about competitors' bids. On top of that, a taxpayer-funded university wound up paying $4 million more than it should have paid. If our math is correct, that's about $12.5-million worth of graft and corruption, courtesy of a public official who went on to chair the Alabama Republican Party and then become speaker of the House.
Is Mike Hubbard likely to face criminal charges of the sort that were brought against Bullock County officials? We think it's doubtful, based on a number of political and legal considerations. For one, it's hard to imagine our Republican-dominated power structure treating one of Bob Riley's favored sons the way it treated the commissioners in Bullock County. Perhaps of more importance, the applicable statute of limitations on a 2002 transaction probably has expired, which would block a criminal case as untimely.
It's possible that Hubbard is not out of the criminal woods. The five-year deal with Auburn extended through 2007, so that might bring the applicable statute of limitations back into play. Could a crafty prosecutor make the case that Hubbard has engaged in ongoing criminal activity that grew out of the 2002 deal, extending the statute of limitations? Well, Hubbard sold the Auburn Network to International Sports Properties (ISP) in 2003, but he continued as president of ISP's Auburn sports project. IMG College purchased ISP in 2010, so the Auburn Sports Network now operates under the IMG College banner. The Auburn Sports Network still has its contract with the university, so one could argue that the firm continues to benefit from Hubbard's apparent fraud on the 2002 deal.
If Hubbard used the the U.S. mails or wires while rigging the bid process--and he almost certainly did--that might invoke federal jurisdiction. And Hubbard's actions appear to go well beyond bid-law violations to outright fraud.
All of this includes an ironic twist in the volatile world of sports media. Host Communications, which probably would have won the bid in 2002 without Hubbard's apparent fraud, also has been bought by IMG. Host Communications probably is just now finding out about the fraud-riddled bid process in 2002, so it likely would have a valid civil claim against Hubbard. But with Host and the Auburn Network now both under the IMG banner, would such a claim make sense? Could IMG/Host go after Hubbard individually in a lawsuit?
The answers to those questions are unclear, but we suspect Hubbard's biggest concern should be on the civil side, rather than criminal. Auburn University might have the strongest grounds for a lawsuit, and who knows what the wide-ranging discovery process in such a civil claim would reveal about Mike Hubbard's business and political practices?
Paul Davis, the late owner and president of The Tuskegee News, wrote an article in 2010 that outlined Hubbard's machinations on the Auburn contract from 2002. The Davis article references an "emissary" who delivered copies of competitors' proposals to Hubbard. Thanks to Bill Britt's reporting, we now know the emissary was Buddy Mitchell--and Mitchell has admitted to his role in a sworn statement.
Regardless of what happens to Hubbard in a court of law, Alabamians should consider the words in Buddy Mitchell's affidavit and ask this question: What kind of man is leading our House of Representatives--and what kind of tactics did he use to reach that position?
|Judge Thomas Young|
You might think that Alabama's chief law-enforcement officer would be above judge shopping. But you would be wrong.
In fact, events leading up to two gambling-related hearings this week indicate Attorney General Luther Strange is an ardent judge shopper. And that should cause reasonable citizens to question the quality of arguments Strange plans to present before the courts.
What evidence suggests that "Big Luther" is practicing the low art of judge shopping? As Exhibit A, consider a hearing that is scheduled today before Macon County Circuit Judge Thomas Young. The hearing originally was set on VictoryLand's motion that its property is due to be returned after Strange's office seized electronic-bingo machines, money, and other items in a February 19 raid. But Strange filed a motion for Judge Young to recuse himself, and today's hearing now is expected to focus only on that issue
As Exhibit B, let's consider a hearing that is scheduled for Thursday before Houston County Circuit Judge Mike Conaway. Officials with Center Stage Alabama are seeking the return of 600 electronic gaming devices and $283,000, which were seized in a raid last July. In that matter, Strange has steadfastly opposed the recusal of Judge Conaway.
Why does the attorney general want a judge in Macon County to step down from a gambling case, while he wants a judge in Houston County to stay put? Well, it appears "Big Luther" is a pretty unprincipled guy. Actually, he does seem to have one principle, and it goes something like this: "I want cases to be heard only by judges who rule in my favor. All other judges must be removed because of 'bias.'"
What is Luther Strange really up to with all the drama of gambling raids? The folks at Dothan-based Rickey Stokes News recently summed it up pretty well, in our view:
While the Attorney General says the operation [at Center Stage] is illegal, he has yet to file any criminal charges in the case. However, he is working for a civil forfeiture of the machines and the equipment. This is a way to circumvent his having to prove the legality of the machines. We have to only take the politician's words because he can't put up or shut up in a criminal proceeding.
With the AG facing shaky facts and law, perhaps that's why he is focused heavily on the pursuit of friendly judges. What is the law on recusal of a judge? Well, it's filled with all sorts of high-minded language that sounds good in theory. But the reality often is muddled and subjective. The basics can be found in a case styled Matter of Sheffield, 465 So. 2d 350 (Ala. Sup. Ct, 1984):
Recusal is required . . . when "facts are shown which make it reasonable for members of the public or a party, or counsel opposed to question the impartiality of the judge. . . ." Specifically, the . . . recusal test is: "Would a person of ordinary prudence in the judge's position knowing all of the facts known to the judge find that there is a reasonable basis for questioning the judge's impartiality?"
Alabama courts also have held that "recusal is not required by a mere accusation of bias unsupported by substantial fact." Crowell v. May, 676 So. 2d 941 (Ala. Civ. App., 1996).
Published reports indicate that Strange's recusal motion in Macon County is based almost entirely on the fact that Judge Young ruled against him on an application for a search warrant at VictoryLand. But we've seen no evidence that Young's ruling was contrary to fact or law--or that it was driven by bias. In fact, it was a discretionary ruling, and the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with Young's finding. The raid took place only after the Alabama Supreme Court granted Strange's writ of mandamus, forcing Young to approve the search warrant.
(For what it's worth, the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board also agreed with Young. It granted VictoryLand a liquor license, stating that it could not find the facility was engaging in illegal activity.)
Evidence of bias on Judge Young's part--supported by substantial fact--might be presented at today's hearing or at some point in the future. But for now, it's hard to see any lawful grounds for him to step down from the VictoryLand case.
As for the matter in Houston County, it presents some troubling facts regarding recusal. Judge Conaway was appointed to the bench by former Governor Bob Riley, who spent much of his last two years in office launching a crusade against non-Indian gaming at facilities such as Center Stage. During the appointment process, former Riley adviser Sonny Reagan interviewed Conaway; Reagan now works for the attorney general's office and serves as chief prosecutor on the Center Stage case.
To summarize: Substantial evidence suggests Judge Conaway owes his spot on the bench to Sonny Reagan--and Mr. Reagan now is arguing against Center Stage before Judge Conaway. Do attorneys for Center Stage have the kind of "substantial fact" that goes beyond a "mere accusation of bias"? If they don't, it's hard to imagine a party in Alabama who would.
Despite that, the Alabama Supreme Court has found that Conaway can stay on the Center Stage case. With that as a backdrop, it seems Strange has no grounds for Judge Young's recusal in Macon County.
But as we noted earlier, Strange is an unprincipled guy, and he's trying to get Young off the case anyway. We should know pretty soon if the attorney general is successful. If he is, we will know just how far the rule of law has sunk in this state.
(Update at 1:45 p.m. CST on 3/19/13)
Macon County Judge Thomas Young this morning denied Attorney General Luther Strange's request to recuse himself from the VictoryLand seizure case. Here is a report from al.com:
Macon County Judge Tom Young Turns Down AG's Request . . .
All of this came to public attention because of a citizen journalist's investigative efforts. The same citizen journalist wrote a blog post yesterday providing important background on the legislative conference and the organizations behind it--information that largely has been ignored by the mainstream press.
Charles Dean, of al.com, wrote Sunday about a March 2012 fund-raising letter that asked PCI for $150,000 to support the annual meeting of the Southern Legislative Conference (SLC), which will be July 27-31 in Mobile. But the story actually broke last week when a citizen journalist who goes by the name "MaximusShelby" posted the letter on the document-sharing site Scribd and followed up with an item on Twitter. (The letter can be viewed at the end of this post.)
Dean must have received a tip about the letter's presence on the Web, and to his credit, produced a major story for Sunday's issue of The Birmingham News. But he did not give MaximusShelby credit for breaking the story, and he did not link to the actual letter on Scribd.
William J. "Happy" Fulford, lead lobbyist for the University of South Alabama and chair of the conference planning committee, wrote the letter and noted the prominent roles for Hubbard and Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh as hosts of the event.
In his article, Dean points out the incongruity of the anti-gambling Hubbard seeking funds from an Indian gaming interest. But when asking Hubbard about the letter, Dean might have let Mr. Speaker off the hook. From the al.com article:
Hubbard and Marsh both said they had not seen Fulford's letter to the Poarch Creeks until a reporter showed it to them late last week. Fulford said it never occurred to him to tell Hubbard or Marsh that he was including their names on the solicitation letter.
"The speaker and the pro tem are hosts for the event and as such the protocol would be to include their names," said Fulford.
Hubbard said he has no role in the fund-raising effort led by Fulford. He said he had really no comment on the request to the Poarch Creeks for a donation. Hubbard did say he remains "one hundred percent" opposed to gambling and whether the tribe helped pay for the cost of the conference would have no effect on his position.
Hubbard had no role in the fund-raising effort and apparently was unaware of Fulford's letter? That's strange, given that anyone who views the entire letter can see this at the bottom:
Speaker Hubbard/Senate President Pro Tempore Marsh Letter
Sponsorship pledge form
That indicates a letter from Hubbard and Marsh was included with Fulford's packet. But the speaker claims he had no role in the fund-raising effort? We are to believe that Hubbard did not know who was receiving donation requests that included his own letter? A copy of the Hubbard/Marsh enclosure has not yet surfaced, but the evidence so far suggests Speaker Hubbard did not tell the truth about his involvement in the fund-raising effort.
|Poarch Creek casino|
At an upcoming event scheduled for July 27 through July 31st, legislators from fifteen southern states will be meeting in Mobile, Alabama behind closed doors. Many who are attending this exclusive event have the option of doing so on the taxpayer's dime. . . .
One lobbying group who's hawking this Mobile soiree is Stateside Associates. Founded by a former Executive Director for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Constance Campanella, the Stateside Associates firm functions as a "stealth lobbyists" organization.
Who is Stateside Associates, and what is a "stealth lobbyist"? Maximus provides insight:
"Taxpayer subsidized stealth lobbyists: Lobbyists who circumvent normal lobbying regulations and procedures to advance the corporate agenda in statehouses nationwide on the taxpayer dime.
"A lobbying behemoth--the self-proclaimed largest firm of its kind--Stateside has enough tricks up its sleeve to tackle even the most difficult, and often delicate, lobbying cases."
Mike Hubbard has claimed to be a proponent of transparency. But he is co-hosting a conference that appears to be about anything but transparency. Maximus adds important perspective:
In the political poker games of corporate deal-making, ALEC-style cronyism, and unembarrassed double standards, no one plays a better hand than the Alabama Republican Party does. With a marked deck at their disposal, they've built a house of cards on "transparency and honor in office" since sweeping all three legislative branches of government in 2010. . . .
If Alabama's legislators return from these high-dollar conferences and events with potential legislative templates in hand that all Alabamians have to live under, then can we at least demand that it's not done on any taxpayer's dime? Might we also demand that any "conferencing" is not done behind closed doors?
The people should demand no less from their elected officials. Beyond that members of the state media need to wake up and thoroughly explore and/or expose serious issues like these--not only in the interest of good journalism, but because the public has a right to know.
Doing any less enables the cloak of secrecy for Alabama legislators.
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