BRADENTON, Fla. — The long-awaited pay-to-play trial of Birmingham, Ala., Mayor Larry Langford is slated to start Monday with jury selection.
Langford faces some 60 federal charges arising from when he was president of the Jefferson County commission and orchestrated the refinancing of $3.2 billion of sewer warrants into variable- and auction-rate debt that the county has been unable to restructure for well over a year. With sewer system revenues unable to keep pace with higher penalty interest costs and accelerated principal payments, Jefferson County has defaulted on some of the debt.
Last December, Langford, Montgomery bond dealer William Blount, and their mutual friend, lobbyist Albert LaPierre, were named in a 101-count federal indictment.
Prosecutors charged that when he was Jefferson County commission president, Langford steered bond business to Blount and his firm, Blount Parrish & Co., earning the firm $7.1 million in fees. Blount Parrish initially was named in the case but charges were later withdrawn.
Blount pleaded guilty in mid-August to one count each of bribery and conspiracy, and he admitted that he used LaPierre as a conduit to funnel money to Langford. LaPierre, who received nearly $400,000 in the scheme, pleaded guilty in July to one count each of conspiracy and filing a false tax return.
Blount and LaPierre are expected to testify against Langford as part of their plea agreements.
Langford has denied the charges and has only made a few public comments about the case.
“All [LaPierre] can testify to is he made a loan to me and I have never taken a bribe from anybody,” Langford told the Birmingham News in late July after LaPierre entered his plea agreement.
Shortly after that attorneys were told not to discuss the case publicly by federal Judge Scott Coogler, who is presiding over the case. And many of the court documents filed electronically have been sealed so they cannot be viewed by the public.
In August, after a change of venue sought by Langford because of extensive, negative pre-trial publicity, Coogler moved the trial to Tuscaloosa, which is about an hour southwest of Birmingham.
Also in August, Coogler approved Langford’s request to have the court pay for his attorney, Michael Rasmussen, who had already been part of Langford’s legal team. Langford submitted evidence proving he could not pay for his attorney but Coogler sealed the document.
The Securities and Exchange Commission was the first to press pay-to-play charges against Langford, Blount, and LaPierre. In an April 30, 2008, federal civil suit, the SEC accused the trio of securities fraud and related charges in the agency’s first enforcement action involving security-based swap agreements — in this case swaps based on municipal bond indexes related to Jefferson County’s sewer debt.
The SEC’s case is on hold pending the outcome of Langford’s federal criminal trial.