BRADENTON, Fla. - After a year-long investigation, the Alabama Ethics Commission said it found probable cause to believe that Gov. Robert Bentley violated ethics and campaign finance laws.
The commission voted Tuesday to refer its findings – one involving a state ethics law violation and three related to the Fair Campaign Practices Act - to the Montgomery County District Attorney for possible prosecution.
“We think that there is not a basis to find that the governor violated any law, much less the ethics act or the fair campaign practices act, and so the battle goes on,” Bentley’s attorney, William Athanas with Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis, said after the commission met in closed session Tuesday.
Some charges are related to an alleged affair that Bentley has denied having with his former political advisor, Rebekah Mason. The scandal surfaced in early 2016, after which Mason resigned.
Bentley has also denied violating any laws.
A year ago, State Auditor Jim Zeigler filed a complaint with the commission citing a series of potential violations involving Bentley and Mason, including misuse of state property and violations of state lobbying laws.
As the scandal unfolded last year, the Alabama House began developing a procedure to investigate Bentley after an impeachment resolution was signed by 23 representatives.
Intentional violations of the Alabama Ethics Act and the Fair Campaign Practices Act are Class B felonies. Each violation can result in a prison sentence between two and 20 years and a fine up to $20,000.
The Ethics Commission said Thursday that votes on the specific violations would be released when its “minutes and voting sheets are ready.”
Commission investigators interviewed more than 45 witnesses and analyzed over 33,000 documents in the course of their investigation, Ethics Commission Director Tom Albritton said in a release.
“The staff of the commission has worked tirelessly and thoroughly to investigate every complaint that we received,” Albritton said. “The evidence was reviewed and tested multiple times by career lawyers.”
While details of the investigation remain confidential, Albritton said commissioners – two retired circuit judges, two attorneys and a doctor - used their “vast experience” to sift through evidence and judge the testimony of witnesses to return their findings.
Athanas said he was disappointed with the conclusion the ethics commission reached, but that he believed the process was fair.
“It’s important to keep in mind this is simply a finding of probable cause, not a finding of a violation,” he said. “We disagree with the conclusion that the commission reached.”
Bentley, a Republican, became Alabama’s governor in 2010. He was reelected in 2014.