Special grand jury in Bentley probe finds no new charges warranted

Special grand jury in Bentley probe finds no new charges warranted
Former Alabama Robert Bentley in the days before his resignation. (Source: WSFA 12 News file photo)
Robert Bentley's April 10, 2017 booking photo at the Montgomery County Jail. He resigned from office shortly after this photo was taken. (Source: Montgomery County Jail)
Robert Bentley's April 10, 2017 booking photo at the Montgomery County Jail. He resigned from office shortly after this photo was taken. (Source: Montgomery County Jail)
Supernumerary District Attorney Ellen Brooks announces the closure of the Bentley investigation with the release of the grand jury report. (Source: WSFA 12 News)
Supernumerary District Attorney Ellen Brooks announces the closure of the Bentley investigation with the release of the grand jury report. (Source: WSFA 12 News)

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Supernumerary District Attorney Ellen Brooks called a news conference Wednesday to discuss the end of a two-year investigation of former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley "and others".

April 10 will mark one year since Bentley resigned as the state's 53rd governor after pleading guilty to two misdemeanor charges - failing to file a major contribution report and knowingly converting campaign contributions for personal use.

Brooks released the final report of a special grand jury that determined no other charges against Bentley or anyone else were warranted. Montgomery County Circuit Judge Johnny Hardwick has accepted the report and has dissolved the grand jury.

"Many of the allegations we investigated were not supported by the facts," the report states. "With respect to the other allegations, the facts did not constitute a crime."

The report does cite "serious concerns" about Alabama's ethics laws, however.

The grand jury asked lawmakers to explore serious concerns with the state's ethics laws, specifically the lack of checks and balances to prevent the governor from ordering reports on criminal investigations from the ALEA secretary for illegitimate reasons.

Also, there's nothing in the laws to prohibit loan executives, a non-government employee paid by private money loaned over to work for the state, for example, to wield influence in the governor's office.

And finally, with regard to breaking the law for the financial gain of others, Alabama's ethics laws don't cover relationships outside of marriage or family.

The Alabama Attorney General's Office Special Prosecutions Division opened its probe after getting complaints in spring 2016. It reviewed more than 100,000 documents, more than 100 witness statements, and files from other investigative agencies and legislative committees.

The investigation included a financial analysis of 35 different sets of financial records, as well as a comparative analysis and review by other state and federal agencies. The Special Prosecutions Division heard from 53 witnesses and obtained dozens of exhibits during the last two years.

Bentley's sentence included 30 days in jail, which the judge suspended, 12 months unsupervised probation, paying $100 to the Alabama Crime Victims Compensation Commission and reimbursing the campaign fund almost $9,000.

According to the plea agreement, Bentley agreed not to seek or serve in any public office, waive any retirement benefits, pay $7,000 in fines, surrender almost $37,000 in campaign funds and do at least 100 hours of community service as a physician.

Bentley found himself engulfed in scandal since the state's former top cop, Spencer Collier, publicly accused him of having an affair with an adviser in 2016. Bentley admitted to making inappropriate comments to Rebekah Mason but repeatedly denied the two had a physical affair.

State Auditor Jim Zeigler filed an ethics complaint against Bentley on March 25, 2016. Just over a year after the complaint was filed, the Alabama Ethics Commission found probable cause Bentley violated ethics laws and campaign finance laws.

The ethics commission voted to refer his case to the Montgomery County District Attorney's office for possible prosecution. That's when Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey sent a letter to acting Attorney General Ellen Brooks referring Bentley's case to her office.

Despite Brooks' confirmation of the investigation's closure, Bentley is still involved in a legal battle with Collier.

The Alabama Supreme Court has denied a writ of mandamus filed by Bentley's attorneys in Collier's civil case. Bentley's attorneys believe he has immunity on several claims in the suit, including those for invasion of privacy, conspiracy, and defamation.

Read the full Grand Jury Report here:

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