BRADENTON, Fla. — The pay-to-play corruption trial of Birmingham, Ala., Mayor Larry Langford began last Monday in Tuscaloosa, and before the week ended two of the government’s star witnesses described their roles in bribing Langford while he was president of the Jefferson County commission.
Langford is on trial in federal court before U.S. District Judge Scott Coogler. He faces 60 counts, nearly half of which are bribery charges. He also is charged with 22 counts of fraud as well as charges for filing false tax returns and conspiracy. Most of the charges are related to the refinancing of $3.2 billion of sewer debt on which Jefferson County has now defaulted.
Prosecutors, in opening statements last week, painted Langford as a shopaholic and during the week his longtime friends — Montgomery bond dealer Bill Blount and lobbyist Al LaPierre — took the stand to detail how they gave money and gifts to Langford.
Blount and LaPierre were indicted with Langford late last year, but each entered a plea agreement on reduced charges, leaving Langford to stand trial alone. As part of their plea agreements, both men were required to testify against Langford, who has denied that he ever took bribes.
Both Blount and LaPierre testified last week that they knew Langford long before he was a county commissioner. But when Langford was in a powerful position to make the county’s financial decisions as commission president, Blount and LaPierre testified that they helped Langford financially to keep him happy and to protect him politically when his creditors demanded to be paid.
Blount testified that he bribed Langford after he became president of the commission to get a piece of the action when the county sold bonds and entered swap agreements. Langford never asked for anything, according to Blount.
However, on trips to New York in preparation for bond sales, he said the two men would go together to high-end clothing and jewelry stores such as Salvatore Ferragamo and Tourneau. Langford would pick out what he wanted but when it came time to pay he would not pull out his wallet. He would simply let Blount pay for things, Blount testified.
Blount also provided the money when Langford needed to pay bills, debts, his taxes, and even to take personal trips, although Blount said he never gave cash or checks directly to Langford because of his bond work for the county. Blount’s firm, Blount Parrish & Co., participated in and senior managed a number of the county’s bond deals, including the sewer bond transactions that have threatened to bankrupt the county.
Because of his bond work for the county, Blount said he used a conduit to funnel money to Langford and that LaPierre served as the conduit.
As the middleman, LaPierre, who took the stand on Friday, said he never told Langford where the money came from. He also had an agreement to receive a percentage of the money Blount got for working on the county’s bond deals.
LaPierre said his job for Blount included snooping around the county government building to see what bond work was being considered and to report on other investment banks that were courting the county.
LaPierre also testified that he was unaware that Blount purchased clothes, gifts, and jewelry for Langford in New York. But he also acknowledged in court that his intent was to bribe Langford.
While the word “loan” was noted on some of the checks received by Langford, LaPierre testified there was never any intention of making Langford pay the money back.
However, when the Securities and Exchange Commission began investigating the county’s bond deals and uncovered the payment exchanges, LaPierre said that in 2007 he amended his state Ethics Commission lobbyist reporting forms to include $125,000 in loans he made to Langford.
The trial, which is getting extensive media coverage, continues today and is expected to last the week. The judge has maintained a gag order since before the trial began barring participants from speaking directly to the media.