BRADENTON, Fla. — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit Monday reinstated former Jefferson County, Ala., commissioner Gary White's 2008 conspiracy and bribery convictions and returned the case to Birmingham for sentencing.
White is among more than a dozen former elected officials and contractors charged or convicted of crimes involving Jefferson County's sewer system, which is saddled with $3.2 billion of troubled variable- and auction-rate debt that the county has been unable to restructure for nearly two years. The county has defaulted on its payments.
U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon had moved White's trial to Montgomery from Birmingham, where Jefferson County is located, based on White's complaint that he could not get a fair trial.
After White was convicted of accepting bribes from a sewer contractor whose company was awarded $50 million in contracts, White sought a new trial claiming the change of venue had been improper. Clemon then granted White's motion and set aside his conviction.
The appeals court held that Clemon based his decision to vacate the verdict "on the erroneous legal conclusion that venue cannot be waived." The court reversed Clemon's decision and ordered White to be sentenced.
White's attorney, Bernard Harwood Jr. at Rosen Harwood PA, said his client would file a petition for a rehearing by the three-judge panel that handed down Monday's decision.
"This appeals court ruling is a victory for the taxpayers of Jefferson County," said a statement by U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance, whose office prosecuted White's case. "A corrupt politician who accepted bribes while he was a county commissioner now faces a substantial jail sentence."
Along with White, two other former Jefferson County commissioners, Jeff Germany and Chris McNair, as well as former county employees and other contractors have been convicted of crimes involving work on the sewer system rehabilitation project.
So far, the only former commissioner sentenced for crimes related to the sewer system's financing is Mary Buckelew, who lied to a grand jury about expensive gifts and spa treatments she received from Montgomery bond dealer Bill Blount to influence her vote in connection with the debt that was sold.
After she was shown receipts for Blount's purchases, Buckelew recanted and entered a plea agreement for lying to the grand jury. In November, a federal judge ordered her to pay a $20,000 fine, do 200 hours of community service, and spend three years on probation.
Former Jefferson County Commission President Larry Langford, mastermind of the sewer refinancings, was convicted Oct. 28 on 60 federal charges related to $236,000 in gifts and money that he received for directing bond business to Blount, whose firm received $7 million in fees from county deals. Langford is appealing.
Blount, and mutual friend Al LaPierre, both pleaded guilty before their trial to a handful of pay-to-play charges although they were initially charged with dozens of counts. They will be sentenced on Jan. 7.
Last month, Jefferson County's largest creditor in the sewer debacle, JPMorgan, settled securities fraud and other charges with the Securities and Exchange Commission over the firm's failure to disclose payments that were made to secure the county's bond business.
Without admitting or denying the charges, JPMorgan paid $25 million to the SEC, $50 million to Jefferson County, and forfeited more than $647 million in swap termination fees it said the county owed.
Just days after receiving the $50 million from JPMorgan, Jefferson County filed a lawsuit against the firm and two former managing directors, Langford, Blount and his firm, Blount Parrish & Co., and LaPierre for their roles in selling the county's sewer debt.
Jefferson County's suit claimed "fraud and fraudulent suppression, conspiracy, and unjust enrichment against those who have brought the county and its citizens to the brink of financial disaster while lining their own pockets."