A Special Grand Jury that the Attorney General’s office had impaneled to investigate Spencer Collier, the former Alabama top cop whose firing pulled the lid off Gov. Robert Bentley’s affair with a lobbyist, cleared its subject of all charges yesterday citing lack of evidence. Is an indictment for Bentley coming next?
In an unusual statement, AG Luther Strange emphasized the totality of the jury’s findings on Collier. “In the course of the investigation, no witness provided credible evidence of criminal “misuse of state funds,'” he said. “No witness provided credible evidence of any other criminal violation on the part of former Secretary Collier. Finally, no witness established a credible basis for the initiation of a criminal inquiry in the first place.”
That last line was heard loud and clear at the governor’s mansion. Reacting to the ruling, Bentley issued his own statement that pinned the whole thing on his replacement for Collier, a lackey named Stan Stabler.
Based on concerns presented to me by a member of the Alabama Senate and information that was given to the then Acting Secretary of Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Stan Stabler, when he assumed his position, I felt a new direction in our state law enforcement agency was needed. The information obtained by the ALEA integrity unit was gathered and presented to the Attorney General’s office and a determination has been made. I am very satisfied with the new direction of ALEA and its leader Secretary Stan Stabler.
Collier ran afoul of Bentley when he refused to follow an order against cooperating with the AG’s office in a matter pertaining to the trial of State House Speaker Mike Hubbard. As a result of Collier’s disobedience, Bentley was called to the stand during Hubbard’s trial. Hubbard was found guilty on 12 of 23 charges and sentenced to four years in prison.
Spencer Collier broke the news of Bentley’s affair with Rebekah Caldwell Mason in a press conference on the day he was fired. At almost the same hour, Yellowhammer News posted audio of Bentley apparently having a sexual conversation with Mason. It later emerged that Dianne Bentley had surreptitiously recorded her husband en route to a divorce after 50 years of marriage.
Collier has also filed a lawsuit against Bentley for defamation of character, invasion of privacy, wrongful termination and reckless conduct. According to AL.com’s John Archibald, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s report — put together by acting secretary Stan Stabler, whom Bentley appointed for loyalty — is evidence of all that and more.
Some quoted in the report claim they did not say what the ALEA investigators claim they said. Others say their words were taken out of context or twisted to make them sound more critical of Collier than they actually were. Some say the effort to find a crime no matter what came from directives at the highest levels of ALEA, and possibly the governor’s office.
[…] Birmingham lawyer John Saxon represents Ashley Cook, one of the employees quoted in the document.
“There are statements attributed to Ms. Cook in the report which are inaccurate and which she did not say,” Saxon said. “We’re in the process of drafting something for the record which will indicate that.”
This is a documented abuse of power that Bentley can’t just shrug off with a denial. So it’s noteworthy that reporters covering the Special Grand Jury see signs that the governor is the man in the dock now.
“It is believed the members of [Bentley’s] security team who testified over the course of approximately six hours could give explicit accounts of Bentley using state assets and personnel to conduct a dangerous and inappropriate liaison with Mason,” writes Bill Britt at Alabama Political Reporter.
Executive Security Officers Reggie Hawkins and Mike Culliver who have been daily witnesses to the comings and goings of Bentley and his alleged mistress Rebekah Caldwell Mason. Hawkins who serves as Bentley’s security detail leader reportedly knows where “all the bodies are buried” according to a former member of the elite unit which provides 24/7 protection for the Governor.
Bentley must be called to account for his alleged petty crimes, such as using state or campaign assets to hold his reported liaisons with Mason. But the governor of Alabama may end up on trial for what he apparently tried to do to Spencer Collier, too. As always, the cover-up is worse than the crime.
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