Birmingham Attorneys and Coal Company Executive Indicted in Bribery Scheme
Federal prosecutors have indicted two attorneys with a prominent Birmingham law firm and a coal company executive for their alleged involvement in a bribery scheme related to efforts to clean up pollution around north Birmingham.
Jay Town, U.S Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, announced the indictments Thursday against Balch & Bingham partners Joel Gilbert and Steven McKinney and Drummond Company vice president David Roberson.
“This is the worst type of public corruption,” says Town. “It was all done for the greed of a few and at the expense of so many families and children living in potentially toxic areas.”
The Environmental Protection Agency had designated part of north Birmingham as a Superfund site because of elevated levels of arsenic, lead and other substances in the soil. Such toxins are linked to coal production. The EPA notified Drummond and four other companies they could be held responsible and face millions of dollars in cleanup costs.
Prosecutors say Drummond hired Balch & Bingham to oppose efforts to expand the Superfund site and to add the area to the National Priorities List, which would have fast-tracked the cleanup effort. According to the indictment, Drummond’s Roberson and Gilbert and McKinney, part of Balch & Bingham’s Environmental and Natural Resources Section, bribed then-state Representative Oliver Robinson through a secret consulting contract in exchange for Robinson’s help opposing the EPA’s effort. Prosecutors say Robinson’s payments totaled $360,000.
“This was nothing more than bean counting in some environmental paradigm,” says Town. “It’s cheaper to pay for a politician than it is to pay for an environmental cleanup,
Robinson pleaded guilty earlier this month to seven federal charges including conspiracy, bribery and fraud. Town says he expects Robison to testify if the case goes to trial.
The six-count indictment against Roberson, Gilbert and McKinney includes charges of conspiracy, bribery, honest services wire fraud and money laundering.
Town says he believes the three hid their actions from superiors and does not expect additional indictments.
A lawyer for Gilbert released a statement prior to the announcement of the indictment saying Gilbert is innocent and did not bribe anyone. He says Gilbert’s actions were lawful and routine work. A statement from Balch & Bingham says Gilbert and McKinney have been placed on indefinite leave.
Drummond issued a statement Thursday saying it engaged Oliver Robinson’s foundation to perform community outreach. Drummond said the firm’s two lawyers and its government affairs officer deny the federal charges.