The U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Alabama has charged former state lawmaker Oliver Robinson with seven counts of conspiracy, bribery, and fraud related to payments and other conflicts of interest between several organizations he was affiliated with during his time in the legislature.
On June 16, Robinson signed a non-binding plea agreement for the federal felony charges, though as of Thursday there was no indication of how that might translate to his sentencing. Acting U.S. Attorney Robert Posey simply said, “We’re not promising probation.”
The conspiracy charge carries a maximum of five years imprisonment; 10 years for the one bribery count; the four counts of wire fraud carry a maximum of 20 years each, and the one tax evasion charge has a five-year maximum sentence.
The charges revolve around Robinson receiving payments in exchange for his public opposition to the expansion of the 35th Avenue Superfund site that currently includes the neighborhoods of Collegeville, Harriman Park, and Fairmont.
“Robinson accepted a contract from a Birmingham law firm in exchange for using his position in the legislature to advocate for the position of a coal company, which was a client of the law firm, in opposing a proposal from the EPA to expand the area covered by the current 35th Ave. Superfund site,” Posey said during the press conference. Officials of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service also gave brief remarks about the investigation.
The proposal that Robinson advocated against would have put additional neighborhoods on a national priorities list for cleanup and remediation. Tarrant and Inglenook would have been included in the new proposal. During this time, Birmingham law firm Balch & Bingham represented Drummond Coal and its affiliate ABC Coke, whose plant is located in Tarrant and has been labeled by the EPA as being a potentially responsible party for pollution leading to the cleanup efforts.
“Mr. Robinson’s key act on behalf of the coal company in an exchange for the contracts with the law firm were to appear in his capacity as a state representative before the Alabama Environmental Management Commission and before the director to argue against the EPA’s expansion of the superfund site and and argue on behalf of the interests of the coal company,” Posey said.
According to Posey, Robinson concealed from AEMC and the ADEM director that Balch & Bingham and Drummond were paying the Oliver Robinson Foundation to represent their interests exclusively to the tune of $360,000 between 2015 and 2016.
The expansion would have potentially cost the coal companies “tens of millions” to clean up the neighborhoods. Robinson’s failure to disclose this conflict of interest is what lead to the charges, Posey said.
“This is an example of a well-funded public interest who offered an irresistible inducement to a public official,” Posey said. “In exchange, that public official represented the interests of those who were paying him rather than the interests of his community and constituents in Birmingham.”
Along with the corruption charges, Robinson is also pleading guilty to tax evasion in 2015 for failing to disclose the bribe and contract payments made to him, totalling $360,000. Authorities detailed in statements, a court filing, and a subsequent press release, that Robinson received campaign contributions through a number of organizations — for which he controlled the bank accounts — including The Oliver Robinson Foundation, Robinson & Robinson Communications LLC, and Partnering for Progress. “Despite having his name removed as an authorized signatory” of Partnering for Progress in 2009, he continued to have access to the bank account, the case document reads.
The situation in which Robinson represented the interests of the Drummond company and ABC Coke began in 2014 and continued to at least November 2016.
“In 2015, [unnamed partner with Balch & Bingham] and [unnamed Drummond employee] formed a tax-exempt corporation named Alliance for Jobs and the Economy and recruited corporations to contribute money to help fund opposition to EPA’s actions in North Birmingham,” according to prosecutors. Robinson “knowingly and willfully conspired, combined and agreed” with the attorney and Drummond employee “and others known and unknown” to commit the federal offenses of bribery and honest services wire fraud, the government contends.
One of the wire fraud counts charges Robinson with spending $250,000 in contributions on personal items. The money, which was solicited from corporations and donors for the use of publishing a magazine, was instead funneled through Partnering for Progress and used by Robinson for items unrelated to the magazine or the annual event hosted by the organization, the government said.
According to representatives of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, although Robinson has entered an agreement to plead guilty and has been cooperating with the investigation, he has not yet pleaded guilty. Posey and representatives of the FBI and IRS said they will be continuing the investigation into the other parties involved with the bribery charges as well.
Included among the conditions outlined in the agreement are that Robinson must pay $198,278 in restitution to the IRS and that he consents to the entry of forfeiture judgement against him in an amount of no more than $767,783. A date for the plea hearing has not yet been set.
This is a developing story and will be updated as new information becomes available.