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Alabama Ethics Commission refers Gov. Bentley case to prosecutors

Governor Robert Bentley (photo: Flickr of Governor Robert Bentley, March 21, 2016)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Ethics Commission referred the case against Gov. Robert Bentley (R-Ala.) to the Montgomery Country District Attorney after finding probable cause that he broke various state ethics and campaign laws.

The AEC found there was probable cause that Bentley used public resources for personal interests, received campaign donations outside of restricted time frames, and used campaign funds to pay for the legal fees of former advisor Rebeckah Caldwell Mason.

Bentley denies each allegation.

The governor’s administration has been mired in scandal since Yellowhammer first released audio of him allegedly making sexual advanced towards Mason in 2014. He has repeatedly denied any wrong doing, both moral and legal. Since that time, he has faced state and federal investigations, along with an ongoing impeachment effort by members of the State House of Representatives.

In articles of impeachment filed last year, members of the House charged the governor with neglect of duty, corruption, incompetency, and offenses of moral turpitude. The articles never made it out of the House.

When Bentley’s selection of Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange (R) to fill the seat in the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions (R) raised ethical concerns, Robert Marshall, the new Bentley-appointed state AG, vowed to recuse himself from any investigation of the governor. “If there is a direct investigation into Robert Bentley, I will personally recuse,” Marshall said in February.

If prosecutors choose to go after Bentley, the governor could face a fine of up to $20,000 and between two and 20 years in prison. Bentley’s attorney said that he will contest the allegations. “There is not a basis to find that the governor violated any law, much less the ethics act or the Fair Campaign Practices Act. So the battle goes on,” attorney William Athanas told Al.com.

A Bentley conviction would also create a clean sweep of reprimand for each of the three heads of Alabama’s branches of government over the last calendar year. Last summer, former House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) was convicted of violating state law for using his political position to leverage personal wealth. More recently, Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Roy Moore was removed from his position by the Alabama Court of the Judiciary for advising probate judges to break the law regarding same-sex marriages licenses.

Yellowhammer will update the story as it continues to develop.

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