LEE COUNTY, AL (WSFA) - The first week of Alabama speaker Mike Hubbard's ethics trial wrapped up Friday following testimony from nine witnesses. Prosecutors spent the first half of the day focusing on witnesses from the Southeast Alabama Gas District, then much of the second half questioning witnesses connected to Alabama Pharmacy Cooperative.
Hubbard was a paid consultant for both SEAGD and APCI, and is accused of using the mantle of his office for personal gain through the consulting work he did. He made $12,000 per month consulting for SEAGD and $5,000 per month for APCI.
Prosecutors sought to show that in dealing with Hubbard, witnesses believed they were dealing with him as Alabama Speaker of the House, not as an economic consultant. Hubbard's defense sought to minimize those beliefs...
Up first on the stand was Brett Buerck, a consultant and entrepreneur who co-owned Majority Strategies, the company that did business with the Alabama Republican Party in 2010. He was presented with several pieces of email evidence by the prosecution that included correspondence with Hubbard, Major Strategies co-owner Danny Kammerdiener, and himself.
The prosecution showed one correspondence in which Buerck stated to Kammerdiener that, "If we do this race, we'll have to figure out how to use Craftmaster," a company partly-owned by Hubbard.
Prosecutors also questioned Buerck about an email in which he blew up, stating he would never used Craftmaster again. When asked by prosecutors what the problem was he stated that he's particular about how he works with people, and that he felt Craftmaster was too expensive and too slow. He stated that Kammerdiener told him to use Craftmaster.
On cross examination, the defense showed email evidence from Hubbard it said proved Hubbard was not demanding Majority Strategies use his company, because it stated that he hoped Craftmaster would get some of the money if Majority Strategies got the business. Buerck, when asked by prosecutors, said no, he was never told directly by Hubbard to use Craftmaster.
The State then moved on to focus on counts involving the SEAGD, a non-profit entity made up of and owned by 14 municipalities, including cities like Dothan and Enterprise. The mayors of the municipalities are members of the SEAGD board. The District sells natural gas to businesses and homes, and if there's a profit, the proceeds go to the 14 municipalities.
Dothan Mayor Mike Schmitz was shown evidence by the prosecution of Hubbard's monthly reports of economic development to SEAGD. He also detailed events surrounding the bankruptcy of PEMCO, an aviation company that had been in Dothan area for more than 50 years, and Hubbard's role in working to find a replacement company after PEMCO's bankruptcy.
PEMCO's demise would affect between 300 and 1200 employees, as well as create a financial issue for the airport since it was the largest lease holder there. "It was important that we find a company to replace those jobs and the lease," Schmitz stated.
A Florida company called Commercial Jet ultimately moved into the space, but not before major infrastructure updates (in the millions of dollars) were made. Schmitz testified that the city obtained a bond of $6 million, but that was short of the $18-19 million needed. He said Hubbard got financial help from the state, setting up meetings with Gov. Robert Bentley and Secretary of Commerce, Greg Canfield. The state ultimately helped with approximately $12 million.
Asked if he thought Hubbard was working in his capacity as an economic consultant for the District or as Speaker of the House, Schmitz said as House Speaker.
"He was the Speaker of the House. He has a lot of influence, and we did get meetings. He did what he said he was going to do...get a meeting with the governor," Schmitz explained.
The defense argued the announcement of Commercial Jet coming to Dothan was "a blue ribbon day" and that many elected officials were on-hand. Attorney Bill Baxley went on to point out that Hubbard's letters were all written while the legislature was not in session.
Next to take the stand was Matt Parker, President of the Dothan Chamber of Commerce. He discussed issues of PEMCO's bankruptcy, plans to attract Commercial Jet to Dothan, and how he met with Hubbard and others in the speaker's office in March 2012. He later brought Commercial Jet leaders to Montgomery to meet with Gov. Bentley, Hubbard, and others.
Prosecutors asked Parker if he ever interacted with Hubbard as a private consultant, to which he responded that he'd heard he had contracts but didn't know who they were with. He state he'd always interacted with Hubbard like he was the house speaker and later stated "yes" when asked if he knew Hubbard had a contract with the district.
Parker also testified that he met in Hubbard's office at the State House. One meeting was set up by Jason Isbell, a man who worked for Hubbard at the House of Representatives.
The representative from Alabama's District 86, which encompasses Houston County, took the stand next. Rep. Lee spent the bulk of his time testifying about his role in trying to make plans work for bringing a PEMCO replacement. The prosecution highlighted the fact that Lee only gets paid by the State for his role as a representative, worked in his role as representative during meetings, and that it was his belief Hubbard was also acting in his official capacity as Speaker.
Defense attorney Bill Baxley, on cross examination, asked Lee what he would call Hubbard if he ever ran into him as Walmart or any other place outside the legislature. Lee said he would refer to him as Speaker.
When the prosecution asked Lee why Hubbard attended an economic development meeting, Lee responded, "As his position as Speaker of the House". Various meetings and appointments were posed that involved Hubbard's work with the SEAGD, Lee always responded that Hubbard was working in his capacity as a legislator.
The last witness before lunch, and the third the prosecution brought in regarding SEAGD, was Enterprise Mayor Kenneth Boswell. He, like Mayor Schmitz, serves as a board member for SEAGD due to his position as mayor of one of the 14 municipalities.
Boswell confirmed he, and all the other board members voted for Hubbard, after a committee was tasked with coming back with recommendations to hire a full time economic consultant. To his knowledge, Boswell believed Hubbard was the only recommended candidate, and he was hired because of his position as speaker and for his connections to the State of Alabama.
Boswell testified that Hubbard, who was making $12,000 per month, did a "fair" job. His pay was ultimately cut to $7,500 per month because some board members didn't think there was enough production from him to justify the pay.
Prosecutors then focused of two companies - Enterprise Electric, and Alabama Aircraft Support - and Hubbard's dealings with them.
The first company builds weather radars, the second deals with tearing down and rebuilding state aircraft. Enterprise Electric was thinking of moving out of the city or state, and Boswell, seeking to keep them in Enterprise, sought Hubbard's help with economic incentives. Alabama Aircraft Support was provided economic incentives and a lease. Regarding meetings dealing with both companies, Boswell testified that Hubbard attended as a consultant despite being called "speaker" on occasions.
Questioning moved to Hubbard and others attending the Paris Air Show. Boswell also attended and the SEAGD paid. Prosecutors showed evidence that the SEAGD also paid for Hubbard's trip.
The defense on cross examination said nothing improper happened, got Boswell to admit that Mike Hubbard did not apply for the consulting job with SEAGD, and that Hubbard did not use his official position to get the consulting position.
Defense lawyer Bill Baxley showed a "preclearance" letter from the Alabama Ethics Commission as further evidence that is was legal for him to be hired by the SEAGD. When pressed by Baxley as to whether he was aware if Hubbard used the mantle of his office to seek or get the job, Boswell's response was "no, sir."
To show the opposite, that Hubbard did use his office for gain, the prosecution came back to Boswell with questions regarding ATRIP funding, (money for roads around that state which Boswell wanted some of used in his city.) Boswell admitted having a meeting in the Speaker's office about the funding, then later that information was used by Hubbard in his ongoing monthly reports to the SEAGD, a role in which he was still making $12,000 per month.
Nancy Chandler took the stand to discuss her dealing with Mike Hubbard. Now retired, she was President of Enterprise State Community College. She testified about meeting with Hubbard and him touring some of the college's campuses, as she wanted public officials to see that community colleges like her's needed help. Looking to expand, she learned the facility used by Enterprise Electric may soon be available and was excited about possibly getting it, though the college did not have the funding for it.
Chandler said she met Hubbard in a meeting at Montgomery's Capital City Club for the purpose of gaining funding and support. She stated that in all her dealings with Hubbard, she was always under the impression he was acting as Speaker of the House.
The defense chose not to cross examine Chandler.
Shifting gears with the seventh witness of the day, prosecutors called Ron Downey to the stand. Downey, who is Sr. Vice President and Team Leader of Region's Bank's Problem Asset Management, talked of financial troubles with Craftmaster Printers and Swan Investments, the owner of the building in which it was doing business.
TIM HAMRICK and KENNY SANDERS
Friday's final rounds of questioning came back to a familiar topic from previous days' testimony and was in regards to Alabama Pharmacy Cooperative, Inc. and Hubbard's consulting for the company. Witnesses included APCI President Tim Hamrick and former APCI employee Kenny Sanders.
Hamrick testified that Hubbard was hired as a consultant - at a rate of $5,000 per month - and believed he could use his contacts to help APCI, though the contract Hubbard signed in 2012 prohibited him from doing any work in Alabama.
Prosecutors hammered away with evidence in a letter written by Hamrick to APCI members touting Speaker Hubbard and other legislators for their work for "championing our cause". There was another letter shown from Hamerick to Hubbard thanking him for getting additional language placed in the General Fund Budget.
The defense came back and showed multiple letters to other legislators that were identical to those sent to Hubbard, and a generic draft letter to various legislators that could be sent from APCI to its members to send. The defense stated that it was even Hubbard's idea to include the prohibition of Alabama work in the contract.
Hamrick told the defense Hubbard was not hired for a specific act, rather because of his years of support to independent pharmacies.
Prosecutors returned before the witness was released, adding that they weren't paying other legislators $5,000 per month, but they were for Hubbard.
Sanders, the last witness of the day, said Hubbard APCI's lobbyist, Farrell Patrick, felt Hubbard - as Speaker of the House - could help APCI's name catch on as it expanded outside the state (It's in more than 24 states now.)
Added into evidence, the prosecution showed an email from Feb. 2013 in which Hubbard is still consulting for APCI. The email stated that it would be a good idea to include lobbyists in all the states where APCI had members, including a Montgomery PR group.
At issue was an an email from Sanders warning not to mention Hubbard because he's Speaker of the House. "I know that could sound strange but we need to protect him," it stated.
Prosecutors believed this was proof that APCI had a perception problem, because Hubbard was prohibited by contract from Alabama work. The defense asked Sanders, and got a no, if he ever asked Hubbard to do anything in Alabama. Baxley said his client had nothing to hide.
The trial continues on Tuesday. There will be no proceedings Monday due to it being Memorial Day.