U.S. Attorney Indicts Two Lawyers and One Coal Executive For Bribing Alabama Lawmaker Oliver Robinson
Expounding upon our related story from last night, at a press conference today, U.S. Attorney Jay Town announced that two attorneys from the law firm of Balch & Bingham, along with one executive from the Drummond Company have been indicted on charges related to the case of former Alabama House member, Oliver Robinson of Birmingham.
The Balch & Bingham attorneys are Joel Gilbert and Steven McKinney, both partners in the firm. The Drummond Company executive is David Roberson, vice president of government and regulatory affairs.
The U.S. Attorney’s news release said the trio “conspired to provide former state Rep. Oliver L. Robinson Jr. with a valuable and confidential consulting contract in exchange for his taking official action favorable to Balch & Bingham and its client, Drummond, regarding an environmental cleanup site in north Birmingham.”
“It matters not on which side of the bribe one falls in public corruption. Those who pay and those who receive will be prosecuted to the fullest,” Town said. “The work done by this trial team and investigators with the FBI and IRS has been as diligent as it has been exceptional.”
FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp Jr. added, “Public corruption tears at the fabric of democracy and undermines the public’s trust in government. Those who choose to engage in corrupt practices can expect the FBI and our partners will be working to bring you to justice.”
As we reported last night, at the time of Oliver Robinson’s plea deal in June, the U.S. Attorney’s press release said an area of North Birmingham that includes Harriman Park, Fairmont, and Collegeville—and that was later expanded to include Tarrant and Inglenook—was found to have high levels of pollution. As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated this area as a Superfund Site referred to as “35th Avenue Superfund Site.” In 2013, the EPA told five companies that they could be responsible for this pollution, which could cost millions of dollars to remediate
Connecting these new indictments to those actions, today’s U.S. Attorney’s press release stated:
Gilbert, 45, McKinney, 62, and Roberson, 66, all of Birmingham, employed a strategy between 2014 and 2016 “focused on protecting ABC Coke and Drummond Company from the tremendous potential costs associated with being held responsible for pollution within the affected areas,” according to the indictment. They sought to accomplish that goal by working to prevent placement of the 35th Avenue Site on the National Priorities List or its expansion to Tarrant and Inglenook, according to the indictment.
As we reported last night, Mr. Gilbert’s lawyer, Jack Sharman, issued a statement proclaiming his client’s innocence:
“Joel Gilbert is innocent of these charges. He did not bribe anyone. This is a case that never should have been brought Joel represented a client in a legal dispute with the EPA, a powerful and, in this case, over-reaching federal agency. Everything he did while representing that client was lawful and ethical. He is a longtime partner at a leading law firm. A lawyer with a reputation for honesty and integrity, he did what is routine for good counselors to do for corporate and individual clients every day – he engaged a consultant through a written contract to perform real and lawful services.”
Balch & Bingham also issued a statement today, which read:
“Today we learned of the federal grand jury action regarding Joel Gilbert and Steve McKinney. While we note that Mr. Gilbert has denied the charges and vowed to vigorously defend himself, and expect Mr. McKinney to do the same, the charges allege actions that, if proven to be true, are contrary to the ethical values that guide our firm’s attorneys and staff. We take these issues very seriously. We are continuing to cooperate fully with government authorities because, in part, we believe strongly that our firm is not implicated more broadly in the alleged conduct. Both Mr. Gilbert and Mr. McKinney are on an indefinite leave of absence. We will continue to ensure that all of the firm attorneys and staff, across our footprint, fully understand and are adhering to the highest standards of legal and ethical compliance.”
A statement from the Drummond Company said:
When confronted with an environmental issue in Jefferson County, Alabama, Drummond retained one of the state’s most respected environmental law firms. The law firm engaged the Oliver Robinson Foundation to perform community outreach in connection with the matter, and Drummond understood this process was lawful and proper. Two of the law firm’s lawyers involved in the matter, and Drummond’s government affairs officer, have now been charged with federal offenses, apparently based on testimony of Representative Robinson. All three men deny the charges, and must be presumed innocent.
Brett Bloomston, Mr. Roberson’s attorney, also issued a statement proclaiming his client’s innocence:
David Roberson is innocent of the charges returned against him, at the prosecution’s request, by a grand jury that heard only one side of the evidence. David has lived his entire life in Alabama and has earned a stellar reputation for his honesty, integrity, and hard work. David’s tenure with his current employer, Drummond Company, Inc., is no exception. David looks forward to his day in court and expects to be acquitted of all charges by a jury of his peers in a trial where he will have the right to confront the prosecution’s evidence.