BRADENTON, Fla. — The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta Friday affirmed the conviction of Larry Langford, one-time president of the Jefferson County Commission and former mayor of Birmingham.
Langford, who orchestrated the now-failed refinancing of the Alabama county’s sewer warrants, has been serving a 15-year prison sentence in Kentucky since April 7, 2010.
Langford sought to overturn his October 2009 conviction by a federal jury in Alabama that found him guilty on 61 counts of bribery, money laundering, mail and wire fraud, conspiracy, and filing a false tax return.
The pay-to-play charges are related to financings he orchestrated as commission president and head of the board’s finance committee.
Langford is among dozens of elected officials, contractors, and others who worked on the financings and the sewer system itself who have been convicted of corruption.
The sewer system is now overleveraged with troubled variable- and auction-rate debt that its revenues cannot repay.
Michael Rasmussen, attorney for Langford, could not be reached by press time for comment about whether a rehearing or further appeal would be sought.
Langford has maintained his innocence despite the fact that he was convicted of taking more than $240,000 in gifts and money in return for directing bond business to Montgomery bond dealer Bill Blount.
Blount’s firm received $7 million in fees from county deals. Lobbyist Al LaPierre, a friend to both men, was often the go-between delivering money.
All three men were named in a 101-count indictment in November 2008. Blount and LaPierre entered negotiated pleas and are in prison.
Langford stood trial alone. After eight days of testimony in Tuscaloosa, a jury took less than two hours to find him guilty.
In appealing the conviction, Langford’s attorney argued that the evidence did not support mail and wire fraud charges, and that the lower court erred while issuing some rulings in giving the jury instructions and denying Langford’s motion for a change of venue after jury selection.
In a 48-page opinion Friday, the appellate court rejected Langford’s arguments.
“We add that the evidence of Langford’s guilt in accepting many bribes — including testimony by Blount, corroborated by extensive documentation that he paid Langford $240,000 in cash, clothing, and jewelry so that Blount’s investment-banking firm would receive millions of dollars’ worth of fees from financial transactions in Jefferson County — was overwhelming,” the appellate ruling said.
Public officials are not above the law, first assistant U.S. attorney John England said on behalf of prosecutors.
“Langford’s willingness to seek and accept bribes in order to dole out county business helped bring Jefferson County to the brink of financial ruin,” England said.
The criminal case against Langford, Blount and LaPierre was an outgrowth of a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation of Jefferson County’s bond deals. The SEC in April 2008 filed a federal civil case against the three men alleging securities fraud and related charges. It was the agency’s first enforcement action involving security-based swap agreements — swaps related to the county’s sewer debt based on municipal bond indexes.
Federal Judge Abdul Kallon in March denied a motion by Langford to dismiss the pending SEC civil charges against him. Kallon also allowed the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association to file a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, which is not yet available in court records.
In mid-July, Kallon entered permanent injunctions against Blount and LaPierre that prevent them from violating securities laws and Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board rules. The SEC agreed to dismiss its claims for penalties in the case against both men.