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Friday, September 23, 2016

The horrible fallout from a botched Alabama divorce case: Hannah Upton dies alone in the wilds of Alaska


Hannah Yeilding Upton
(From al.com)
The details surrounding Hannah Yeilding Upton's death, at age 23, are murky. But, based on our research, this much is clear: The young woman had multiple special needs and should have been living with her adoptive mother, Linda Upton, who had considerable experience with such conditions.

Through a series of dubious court decisions in the Upton v. Upton divorce case -- some rulings were by Private Judge Gary Pate; others apparently were driven by officials in Jefferson County Family Court -- Hannah Upton wound up living with her father, Birmingham steel executive Bill Upton.

Did that outcome lead to Hannah Upton's death? Does that suggest the machinations of lawyers and compromised judges -- perhaps more interested in generating sizable fees and personal favors -- can prove to be deadly?

Our answer, based on more than three years covering the Upton case, is yes.

How did Hannah Upton come to die alone in the woods of Alaska? Here is our understanding of events:

Hannah Upton faced a number of serious physical and emotional challenges. She suffered from juvenile diabetes, which was subject to spinning out of control without regular monitoring. She had a form of autism, which made it difficult for her to understand cause and effect -- to grasp how one questionable decision can lead to bad outcomes.

At some point, perhaps in early 2014, Hannah Upton struck up an online friendship with a young man who lived in Alaska. She long had loved animals and the outdoors and decided she wanted to move to Alaska. Bill Upton apparently went along with the decision, and Hannah wound up living somewhere near Anchorage, Alaska.

She enrolled at Alaska Pacific University to study large-animal marine science, and that seemed promising. But on December 10, 2014, she was found dead in a small home/cabin on the woodsy outskirts of Anchorage. It was not clear if she was living with someone at the time.

We have not been able to determine a precise cause of death, but it appears Hannah was not able to manage her diabetes on her own. Her blood-sugar levels likely spiked, causing her death.

Judge Gary Pate
(From Facebook)
Was it wise to let a young woman with serious special needs go off more or less on her own to Alaska? A reasonable observer likely would say no. Bill Upton apparently saw no problem with it. But without a series of strange decisions from Alabama courts, it would not have been his decision -- Hannah would have been under her mother's care.

This is from Hannah Upton's obituary:

Hannah Yeilding Upton, 23, passed away on Wednesday, December 10, 2014.

Hannah was attending Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage, Alaska. Hannah was pursuing her dreams majoring in large animal marine science. She treasured her family and enjoyed animals. Her joys included reading, drawing, knitting, and caring for children and animals. She was loyal to her friends. She lived a life that made those around her love her. She will be remembered by her family and friends as a daughter, sister and friend who gave to others with all her heart and strength. May we all remember Hannah Upton for the brave and loving life she lived. She was open-hearted and accepted people as they were, loving others more than herself. She was quick to forgive and give hugs. She found joy in life and was able to laugh. We will miss her so much.

And then, there is this, which hints at the challenges Hannah faced in her much-too-brief life:

Hannah is survived by her father, Bill Upton (Gincie); mother, Linda Upton; brothers, William David Upton III (Arden Ward), David Bridges Upton and Brandon David Sherrill Upton; sisters, Breelynne Christine Bice and Polly Ameline; and grandparents, William David Upton and Annie Lou Yeilding Upton. Hannah is also survived by numerous aunts, uncles, cousins and other loved ones.

A reception will be held in memory of Hannah on Tuesday, December 16, 2014 from 11:30 until 1:30 at Southern Heritage Funeral Home. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations in memory of Hannah be made to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, 600 Beacon Parkway West #860, Birmingham, AL 35209.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Killing of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, OK, shows the ability of law enforcement to escalate problems, not solve them -- and to lie flagrantly in the process


The shooting of Terence Crutcher by Tulsa cops
(From bearingarms.com)
(Update @4:30 p.m. CDT on 9/22/16 -- Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby has been charged with first-degree manslaughter in the shooting death of Terence Crutcher. In a New York Times article published roughly 20 minutes ago, Tulsa County DA Steve Kunzweiler said: "Although she is charged, she is presumed innocent until a judge or jury determines otherwise. I don’t know why things happen in this world the way they do.” Will federal civil-rights charges be next? We recently had such a case in Alabama. Here is a link to our six-part series about the issues that arose in the case of Officer Eric Parker and Sureshbhai Patel. A link in the first paragraph goes to the full series. A similar case is likely to unfold in Oklahoma.)

In the two-plus years since police in Ferguson, Missouri, shot and killed Michael Brown, America's news pages have been filled with stories of cops gunning down or otherwise abusing citizens, leaving a trail of death and serious injury in their wake. But no case might be more sickening than the shooting last Friday of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Some have called it an "execution"; others have called it "cold-blooded murder." Police admit that Crutcher had no weapon in his possession,  and he is seen on video walking toward his vehicle with his hands in the air. A few moments later, he is lying in the street with blood pouring from a chest wound, courtesy of officer Betty Shelby.

What is most disturbing about this case? Given the horror of it all, that's hard to say, but this jumps out to us: Terence Crutcher was not part of any crime, no call of a crime involving him had even been called in. Tulsa police reportedly had received an unrelated domestic-violence call and were on the way to check on that when they came across Terence Crutcher's vehicle stalled in the road. Next thing you know, Mr. Crutcher was lying on the pavement next to his vehicle, dying from a chest wound.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, calling the Crutcher killing "unbearable" and saying it needs to be "intolerable," plans to develop national standards to prevent police shootings. Clinton pointed to systemic racism as part of the issue, and we certainly agree with that. But my wife, Carol, and I know from first-hand experience that cops can abuse white people, too.

I was beaten up in my own garage, doused with pepper spray, and dragged off for a five-month stay in an Alabama jail -- all by an officer who never said he had a warrant, never showed a warrant, and never even stated his reason for being on our property. During an unlawful eviction in Springfield, Missouri, officers told Carol she could enter our apartment to gather belongings, But Carol had been able to gather only one handful of items when an officer slammed her to the ground and yanked on her limbs so viciously that her left arm was snapped in two -- all during an eviction that, by law, was stayed because we had timely filed a notice of appeal. Terence Crutcher wound up dead because his car conked out.

We see two deeply troubling issues running through all three of these cases:

(1) Police officers start issuing inappropriate commands in situations where no commands, of any kind, are called for;

In my case, Shelby County deputy Chris Blevins tried to cut me off with his vehicle from driving into my own garage. When that failed, Blevins walked inside the garage as I was exiting our vehicle and preparing to lower the garage door. "Why don't you step outside?" he said. Knowing Blevins had stated no reason for his presence on our property, I said, "Why don't you get out of my garage?" I soon was violently being pushed three times to a concrete floor and doused with pepper spray.

(For the record, I have not studied the possible effects of pepper spray on human eyeballs, but mine were filled with the stuff that night. With the Shelby County Jail about 25-30 miles away in Columbiana -- and with Officer Blevins writing his report while I sat in the back seat of a squad car -- I had a heavy dose of pepper spray in my eyes probably for more than two hours. It stayed there until I was stripped and told to enter a decontamination shower at the jail. My eyes and my vision have not been the same since that incident. Even with my glasses on now, my vision is blurry, and I'm struggling to see the computer screen, and my eyes frequently get dry and sore.)

Did I have reason to follow any of Blevins' commands? Well, he violated Alabama law the moment he stepped into our home without stating his purpose for being there. (See Livingston v. Browder, 285 So. 2d 923, Ala. Civ. App., 1973.) Without stating his purpose for being there, and without showing a warrant or making any reference to a warrant, Blevins gave me no reason to believe he had grounds for issuing commands.

In Carol's case, I was sitting right next to her when an officer said she could enter the apartment to retrieve belongings, and when she was done, I could do the same. Carol had brought out a handful of items in one trip and was about to return when three cops surrounded her, and one brutalized her. I still don't know why he did it, and whether he was high on some substance at the time. He certainly acted like he was juiced on something. But I do know that cops on the scene seemed to be making up rules as they went along, even though they had no lawful grounds to be conducting an eviction that, by law, had been stayed.

As for Terence Crutcher, he can be seen on video holding his hands in the air so he appears to be obeying an officer's command. And yet, officers claimed he would not obey commands. Here is the bigger question: Why were officers issuing commands, treating Crutcher as a criminal, when they had no probable cause to believe he was involved in a crime. Heck, his vehicle had just broken down, and they could have determined that -- and perhaps offered assistance -- with one simple question.

(2) Officers immediately tend to lie when upon realizing they have stepped in doo-doo;

In my case, Blevins says in his incident report that he had two warrants for my arrest on contempt of court charges, but he never showed them to me and never said anything about them to me. (That's probably because, even if he had the warrants, he knew I had filed a motion challenging service, and there had been no ruling on that. Since plaintiffs' Rob Riley and Liberty Duke had not met their burden of proving service was conducted lawfully, the court had no authority over me -- and any warrant Blevins had -- was meaningless. My guess is that Blevins had no warrant because he -- or someone in his chain of command -- knew it would be pointless to have one. They just wanted me locked up and did not care how it was done.)

Unbelievably, I was charged with resisting arrest, and a judge at that trial told Blevins and prosecutor Tonya Willingham to produce copies of any warrants. They said they didn't have any. My conclusion: Blevins lied about having a warrant. (Note: I didn't do any of the things that, by law, define resisting arrest in Alabama. In fact, Blevins did not even allege that I engaged in such actions. Also, you cannot resist an arrest that is unlawful to begin with.)

In Carol's case, Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott was standing about five feet away as her arm was being broken and promptly declared that she had "assaulted a police officer." Based on Arnott's blatant lies, Carol was handcuffed, placed in the back of a squad car, and transported to the Greene County Jail. She probably would have been booked in, charged with a felony, and hit with a high bond had someone not noticed that she was in severe pain, and both of her arms were a deep purple. In other words, she was the victim of an assault, not the perpetrator of one.

In the Crutcher case, officers described him as appearing to be on drugs and claimed they had found PCP in his vehicle -- after he was already dead, of course. Does this stand the smell test? Not according to Carlos Miller, publisher of the Photography Is Not a Crime blog (PINAC). Writes Miller:

Shelby’s attorney is saying the shooting was justified because Crutcher was trying to reach into his car and into his pockets, but not only does the window appear closed, it is likely he was only trying to reach for his identification.

But we know that is never a guarantee you won’t be shot.

Shelby is also now claiming that she believed Crutcher was high on PCP because she had recently taken a training class that gave her expertise in drug recognition.

But she never once mentioned this to dispatch before she killed him, so we can assume she is lying.

Based on our experience, that would be a logical assumption. We also would guess that many of these deadly incidents start or escalate when cops start making commands they have no lawful grounds for making.

Here is a motto that has come to rule in our household: Cops don't resolve problems, they escalate them. If you want a problem solved, calling a cop likely will only make it worse.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Thoughts of gasoline boiling up under house, from pipeline leak near Birmingham, is enough to make Alabama conservatives sound like tree huggers


Site of Alabama pipeline leak, about 15 miles from
where we used to live in Shelby County
(From inusanews.com)
The ongoing pipeline leak near Birmingham, Alabama, suggests God has a wicked sense of humor.

The leak, in a line owned by Colonial Pipeline Company, originated in a remote area of Shelby County, a few miles from the suburbs of Helena and Alabaster. An estimated 336,000 gallons of gas have leaked so far, and the line provides approximately 40 percent of the gasoline to the East Coast.

As you can see, this is not just an Alabama problem. But it does help illustrate the hypocrisy beneath the state's supposedly firm Republican roots. Shelby long has been known as Alabama's most conservative county, with Baldwin County (near Mobile and site of likely election theft that cost Democrat Don Siegelman in 2002) perhaps a close No. 2.

Shelby County also was home to my wife, Carol, and me for 25 years -- and we probably hold the distinction of being among the handful of people in the county who twice voted for Barack Obama. We still would live there had I not been arrested and shipped to jail for five months, almost certainly at the directive of GOP political elites, for daring to publish accurate articles about sensitive topics on this blog. The moment I got out of jail we were faced with a foreclosure that surely was driven by considerations other than collecting any debt on our property. That's why we currently live in Springfield, Missouri, although we beseech any progressive God who might be listening to help us get the hell out of here, sooner rather than later.

Bottom line? Shelby County, Alabama, in its current state, is a glorified police state, where concepts like due process and a free press go to die. It also is a place where white suburbanites reflexively vote Republican -- meaning they believe in low taxes, limited government regulation, anti-environmentalism, "rugged individualism," and any number of other fairy tales that gained steam during the Reagan era.

But it seems a pipeline leak is the kind of event that can turn a Shelby County conservative into a tree-hugging liberal. Consider this from a recent al.com article titled "Alabama pipeline leak: What we know so far about the spill, gas shortages and more." The leak is in the William R. Ireland Sr. Cahaba River Wildlife Management Area, and that means Birmingham -- even if it dodges this bullet -- has come close to an environmental and social disaster.

In fact, certain scenarios are so disturbing that some of the folks who live near the leak, don't sound so conservative and self-sufficient all of a sudden:

Despite the assurances of Colonial Pipeline and state and local officials, people living near the site of the spill are concerned about possible impacts to their drinking water, or to wildlife in the Cahaba.

Billy McDanal lives less than 500 yards from the edge of the Wildlife Management Area in the small community of Maylene. He and his son have hunted, hiked and ridden four-wheelers throughout the management area and its surroundings for over a decade.

McDanal says he is nervous leaked gas could enter the water table and end up in his basement, where water often collects when it rains.

"What's got me worried with the gas is that it's going to go ... underneath my house and am I going to get gas coming under my house?" he said.

Yep, the thought of gasoline bubbling up under your house is enough to upset a feller's equilibrium. But the potential for catastrophe goes well beyond Billy McDanal's property. The leak site reportedly is about one mile from a tributary of the Cahaba River. How important is the river, and the surrounding area? From al.com:

The Cahaba River is home to 135 known species of fish, according to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, as well as 35 snail species, 10 of which are not found anywhere else in the world. Ten species of fish and freshwater mussel in the Cahaba are listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

A few miles downstream from the leak location lies the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge, which is known nationally as a viewing spot for the Cahaba Lily in the spring. A major drinking water intake for the Birmingham Water Works is upstream.

Colonial has completed construction of a bypass that reportedly will allow the pipeline to resume operations today -- 12 days after the leak was discovered. Does that mean Alabama and other states that rely on the pipeline for gasoline are out of the woods? It probably is too early to say.

But we have learned this: A gas-pipeline leak can be scary enough to make Alabama conservatives sound a lot like liberal environmentalists -- and no one seems to be saying, "Keep the government out of our lives."

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Hannah Upton pays with her life for the corrupt actions of lawyers and private judge Gary Pate in her parents' contentious Alabama divorce case


Hannah Yeilding Upton
How can the decisions of a corrupt judge affect those connected to a divorce case? It can cost an individual her life. We know because we've seen it happen in Birmingham, Alabama.

The case in question is Upton v. Upton, a divorce case involving Linda Upton and her husband of more than 30 years -- multimillionaire industrialist Bill Upton, president of Vulcan Steel Products in Pelham.

The Uptons have one biological child, an adult son, and took several adopted and foster children, most of them with special needs, into their Mountain Brook home over about a 20-year period. One of those adopted children was Hannah Yeilding Upton, who was almost 20 years old when Bill Upton sued for divorce in 2010.

Bill Upton eventually admitted in court documents to having an extramarital affair with Gincie Walker, whom the Uptons had raised as their daughter since she was about 11 years old, and that was the driving event that tore apart the Upton family.

Bill Upton and Gincie Walker Upton, now in her early 30s, are married and live in Mountain Brook. According to court documents, Gincie Upton grew up in an abusive home in Shelby County and has been diagnosed with multiple-personality disorder, including roughly 30 distinct personalities. Her biological father is Dr. William Flynn Walker, who currently is serving a 27-year sentence at a federal prison in North Carolina following his guilty plea on charges of child sexual abuse and sodomy.

Linda Upton has remarried and still lives in the former marital residence on Shook Hill Road, although she had to pay Bill Upton for his half of the property -- despite his admitted egregious marital misconduct. But that is far from the most dubious decision Private Judge Gary Pate made in the case. In fact, the sprawling record in the Upton case, which includes proceedings related to the children in Jefferson County Family Court, indicate Alabama's dysfunctional "justice" system betrayed the Upton children -- with tragic consequences.

We've seen nothing in the court record that indicates Linda Upton was an unfit mother -- and it's undisputed that she did the majority of the parenting in the household, while Bill Upton focused primarily on business matters. At one time, Bill Upton was a prominent figure in Birmingham's conservative religious circles, attending Briarwood Presbyterian Church and supporting the "pro life" movement. (Dr. William Flynn Walker also attended Briarwood Church.)

What kind of parent was (and is) Bill Upton? Well, he admitted in court documents to having a sexual relationship with a young woman who had called him "Daddy" for years. Aside from that, it appears Bill Upton, as a parent, is uncaring, out of touch, lacking in common sense -- or a combination of all three.

Judge Gary Pate
With nothing we can find in the record to support it, Judge Pate granted sole physical custody of the Upton's three minor children (David, Brandon, and Polly) to Bill Upton. A fourth minor child, Breelynn, is not mentioned in the final divorce judgment, but she also wound up living with Bill Upton and Gincie Walker Upton, who is Breelynn's biological mother.

Hannah Upton, probably because she was an adult, also is not mentioned in the order, but she, too, wound up living with Bill Upton. The reasons for that are unclear, although Family Court might have played a role in that determination.

The Pate order putting most of the children in Bill Upton's care is dated December 4, 2012. (See order at the end of this post.) Almost exactly two years later, Hannah Upton was dead.

Would that have happened if Hannah had continued to live with her mother, Linda Upton? Did the lawyers who pushed for the children to live with Bill Upton, and the judge (or judges) who went along with it, contribute to Hannah Upton's death? Did they pretty much cause it?

We will examine those questions in an upcoming post.


(To be continued)





Monday, September 19, 2016

Luther Strange's efforts to convene a special grand jury in JeffCo won't mean much unless he goes after Bob Riley and other cockroaches who hide in dark corners


Luther Strange and his campaign manager/minion
Jessica Medeiros Garrison
(From marieclaire.com)
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange has filed paperwork to convene a special grand jury in Jefferson County. That suggests corrupt public officials in the metro Birmingham area -- and there is no shortage of them -- should be facing sleepless nights in the coming weeks and months. Heck, al.com even noted in a headline that this is the same corruption-fighting unit that successfully nailed former House Speaker Mike Hubbard and turned him into a convicted felon.

We can think of at least three reasons citizens might not want to get too excited about whatever Strange has planned in the Birmingham area:

(1) Strange is part of the corruption problem, not the solution, in metro Birmingham; I've seen evidence of that with mine own eyes;

(2) The Hubbard prosecution was politically tinged, and anything in and around Jefferson County likely will be even more so -- plus, we also look for it to have racial overtones;

(3) Early reports from al.com's John Archibald indicate the investigation will center on the Birmingham Water Works. (Wake me up when that one's over.) The Water Works board probably poses problems, but it hardly is the seat of corruption in the metro area. The heart of darkness in the Birmingham area beats loudest in its courthouses, law firms, and any entity that benefits from the Bob Riley Political Machine.

If Team Strange will not look into those three dark corners, it isn't going to accomplish much. My guess is that Luther and Co. have no intention of accomplishing much, other than to send a few black politicos to prison so that Luther can curry favor with white voters and enhance his chances at becoming governor in 2018. In fact, you can take this to the bank: Any "investigation" will leave the impression that the majority-white suburbs surrounding Birmingham -- Mountain Brook, Vestavia Hills, Homewood, Hoover, Trussville, etc. -- are led by noble public servants who never have an impure thought (except when they are on Ashley Madison). My guess is that the Strange Gang won't even look for any possible corruption in the white suburbs; this will be all about nailing a few dark folks.

Why is Strange part of the problem? Just consider the defamation lawsuit that his former campaign manager, Jessica Medeiros Garrison, filed against Legal Schnauzer and yours truly. Here are several undeniable facts from that case:

(1) Garrison committed perjury in a hearing when she falsely claimed, under oath, that I had reported Strange was the biological father of her son. Strange also testified in the hearing, and if he made the same false claim under oath, he also committed perjury.

(2) Strange has every reason to know Garrison did not provide lawful notice of her default application and hearing, meaning the $3.5 million judgment she received is void -- a nullity that is worth zero. Has Strange spoken out on the subject? Absolutely not.

(3) Strange has every reason to know that Jefferson County Circuit Judge Don Blankenship acted corruptly in failing to vacate Garrison's default judgment. Strange also has every reason to know that Garrison attorney Bill Baxley acted corruptly -- or turned a blind eye to corruption happening right under his nose. Again, has Strange brought this to public attention? Nope.

Speaking of speaking out, Strange is planning to investigate the area where a journalist was arrested less than three years ago -- in Shelby County -- for writing a blog. The case was so wildly outside the law that it made international news, and the journalist was the only member of his profession in 2013 to be incarcerated in the western hemisphere. He was the only U.S. journalist to be incarcerated since 2006, and based on our research, the only journalist in U.S. history to be imprisoned based on a preliminary injunction that has been prohibited under the First Amendment for more than 200 years.

That journalist, of course, is me. A Shelby County sheriff's deputy unlawfully entered our home, beat me up inside my own garage, doused me with pepper spray and hauled me for a five-month stay in the county jail -- all for writing a series of posts that never have been determined to be false or defamatory under the law. It's hard to imagine a more glaring example of corruption -- blatant criminality -- in the Birmingham area. Will Luther Strange investigate the lawyers, judges, and law-enforcement types who were behind it? Don't hold your breath.

Luther Strange has proven, without doubt, that he is a political animal, and a Birmingham grand jury under his purview is likely to be filled with political and racial overtones.

Mike Hubbard, for example, is a despicable human being, and he undoubtedly was guilty of the ethics charges against him. But Hubbard also was the No. 1 threat to Strange's goal of becoming governor, and there is little doubt Hubbard was prosecuted in order to get him out of the picture. Based on that -- and it pains me to say this -- the Hubbard convictions should be overturned on political-prosecution grounds. What was wrong when used against Don Siegelman at the federal level also is wrong when used against Mike Hubbard at the state level.

What does Strange hope to accomplish with the Jefferson County grand jury? My guess is that "Big Lutha" knows his Hubbard prosecution has pissed off a fair number of voters in his primary constituency -- white, pro-business conservatives. Strange probably hopes to win back such voters by shipping a number of black public officials off to prison, whether they have done anything wrong or not.

Matt Hart and Alice Martin, former colleagues in the U.S. attorney's office for the Northern District of Alabama and now a tag-team duo for Luther Strange, made a habit of going after people with dark faces and Democratic Party affiliations during the George W. Bush years. They know how that game is played, and I look for them to spearhead a re-run -- all in the name of furthering Luther Strange's political career, which likely will also further the political careers of Matt Hart and Alice Martin.

Here is the funny thing (as in ironic) that I'm sure has not occurred to Luther Strange: While Jefferson County probably has some corrupt black officials, the area's corruption problem overwhelmingly is driven by white conservatives -- especially those with links to former Governor Bob Riley. That corruption spreads into other parts of the metro area, especially Shelby County and Walker County and . . . well, just about every county that's anywhere near "the Ham." (Don't even get me started on Chilton County; Judge Sibley Reynolds represents a one-man assault on the U.S. Constitution.)

What are the chances that Luther Strange will go after even a few of the white sleazebags who actually drive corruption in Alabama's largest (and most important) metro area? The term "zero" comes to mind. In fact, I'd say "sub zero" might be a better description of the chances.

But if you are a black guy or gal, with ties to Birmingham Water Works or some other entity that might have left its mildly dirty laundry open to exposure, you probably should begin thinking about how you might look in an orange jumpsuit.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Donald Trump contributed more than $40,000 of ''in-kind" services to Florida AG Pam Bondi's campaign, violating state election laws, according to complaint


Donald Trump and Pam Bondi
(From nytimes.com)
Donald Trump violated election law by giving a campaign contribution of more than $3,000 to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, according to a Boston attorney's complaint.

J. Whitfield Larrabee also alleges that Bondi violated the law by failing to certify and publicly disclose Trump's illegal contribution to the Florida Division of Elections. (See full complaint at the end of this post.)

What are the possible implications for Trump, the Republican Party's 2016 presidential nominee? The answer is not immediately clear, but Larrabee already has filed complaints alleging a donation to Bondi's campaign constituted bribery and involved tax evasion and political corruption.

Is Trump withholding his income-tax information because it would reveal criminal activity related to the Bondi donation? Did Bondi withdraw from an investigation of Trump University after receiving a $25,000 campaign donation? Based on Larrabee's complaints, and reporting from a number of Florida news outlets, the answers appear to be yes. Heck, even The New York Times is starting to treat it as a real story.

Now, Larrabee is addressing possible election-law violations, and they go well beyond the $25,000 campaign contribution. Here is how Larrabee describes them in his complaint:

On March 14, 2014, Bondi held an event at the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, in which she solicited campaign contributions in support of her campaign to be re-elected to be the Florida Attorney General.

[Fifty] or more individuals attended this event, including Trump. The minimum contribution to attend the event was $3,000 per person.

The Mar-a-Lago Club is a private club in Palm Beach located on 20 acres of gardens with ocean views. In includes an enormous mansion, beach, pool facility, spa and fine dining.

Space at the resort is expensive to rent. Trump has charged his own presidential campaign roughly $140,000 per event for use of the mansion.

The value of using the Mar-a-Lago Club for Bondi’s fundraising event was approximately $15,000 or more. The value of the use of the venue, the service of drinks and other amenities could not reasonably be less than $300.00 per person. The value of Trump’s attendance at this event was a service that further increased the value of the in-kind gift above $15,000.

In light of the $140,000 that Trump paid for use of the venue for his own events, it is highly likely that the value of the in-kind gift was far in excess of $15,000. As a professional entertainer, the value of Trump’s attendance was at least $25,000. The total value of the in-kind services provided to Bondi was over $40,000.

How do the numbers add up, and what do they mean? Larrabee sums it up:

Donald J. Trump and The Trump Organization made an in-kind contribution to Bondi by allowing her to use the club, its liquor and dining services, and its other amenities for the fundraising event. In-kind contributions are gifts of goods or services, other than monetary gifts.

The Republican Party of Florida paid only $4,855.65 for use of the Mar-a-Lago Club on March 14, 2014.

Bondi received an in-kind contribution from Donald J. Trump and The Trump Organization of approximately $35,144.35 or more. This is the difference between the $4,855.65 paid by the Republican Party for use of the facility and the $15,000 minimum actual value of the use of Mar-a-Lago resort together with the $25,000 entertainment value for Trump’s attendance.

In filings with the Florida Division of Election, Bondi failed to report the $35,144.35 in-kind contribution from Trump and The Trump Organization.

How does this edge toward unlawful activity? Larrabee explains:

In-kind contributions are subject to the same limits as are cash contributions under Florida law.

Florida Statute, 106.08, provides in relevant part:
Contributions; limitations on.—
(1)(a) Except for political parties or affiliated party committees, no person or political committee may, in any election, make contributions in excess of the following amounts: 
1. To a candidate for statewide office or for retention as a justice of the Supreme Court, $3,000.

By contributing more than $35,000 to Bondi, Donald J. Trump and The Trump Organization violated Florida Statute, 106.08(1)(a)(1) and other applicable provisions of Florida Statute 106.08.
Oops!

Aside from its obvious national implications, this story has special ties to Alabama, as we noted in an earlier post:

How do Alabama and Jessica M. Garrison enter the picture? Until January of this year, the Birmingham-based Garrison was senior advisor to the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) and the affiliated Rule of Law Defense Fund (RLDF). Before that, she was executive director of RAGA and President of (RLDF). Why has Garrison backed away from RAGA and its affiliated groups? That's a post for another day, but it's curious that Bondi is a major figure in RAGA -- and she has been at the heart of several controversies.

In fact, a major part of Garrison's job at RAGA apparently was to defend Bondi, who serves on the organization's executive committee as immediate past chair.

When Bondi was criticized in the Florida press for her cozy relationship with out-of-state lobbyists and corporate lawyers, Garrison came to her defense. . . .

Did Garrison break ties with RAGA earlier this year because she knew the Trump-Bondi story was a bombshell that could explode at any moment? If someone heeds calls for an investigation of the matter, perhaps we will find out.

Whitfield Larrabee, of Massachusetts, might be just the guy to do it.

Larrabee is pushing for prompt action, based on these words from his complaint:

The complainant requests the Florida Elections Commission expedite the investigation of this complaint. Said investigation is urgent because this complaint concerns the corruption of the elected and presently serving Florida Attorney General by the candidate nominated by the Republican Party to be President of the United States. Corruption of this nature interferes with the functioning of the governments of Florida and of the United States and undermines the public’s confidence in our democratic institutions.




Thursday, September 15, 2016

Donald Watkins demands SEC dismiss lawsuit against him, claiming the agency knowingly brought false allegations and doctored evidence in the process


Donald Watkins
One of Alabama's most prominent attorneys and businessmen is demanding the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) dismiss a lawsuit against him, claiming the agency knowingly brought false allegations and even doctored evidence.

Donald Watkins, in a letter from his Georgia-based attorney Mario Williams, said SEC lawyers face possible sanctions under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure if they do not dismiss the lawsuit against Watkins and three of his companies. (See letter at the end of this post.) Writes Watkins in a post yesterday at his Facebook page:

Under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint that contains false allegations and which was filed for the purpose of harassing the Defendants, must be withdrawn within 21 days after notice of the Rule 11 violations, or the party filing such a lawsuit faces the risk of sanctions and monetary fines.

In his Rule 11 Letter, Attorney Williams detailed 19 pages of egregious violations of the Rule in which the SEC asserted false allegations in its complaint as true statements of fact. Based upon documents in its possession, the SEC knew or should have known that these allegations were false prior to filing the lawsuit.

In the past couple of years or so, Watkins has become almost as well known for his citizen journalism as for his legal and business pursuits. From his base at Facebook, Watkins has reported numerous investigative articles about corrupt Alabama political figures -- including Gov. Robert Bentley, former House Speaker and convicted felon Mike Hubbard, and former wife-beating U.S. judge Mark Fuller. Has someone sicced the SEC on Watkins in retaliation for his journalistic endeavors? That seems like a reasonable question to ask, especially in light of new information in Watkins' dismissal letter. From Watkins' Facebook post yesterday:

Additionally, the SEC deliberately altered a key section of an email written by me to change its context as well as the message that was being conveyed to the recipient. In doing so, the SEC failed to inform the Court (and public) that it had doctored the email in question, as required ethically and legally. As such, the SEC knowingly presented a false “fact” to the Court that it knew the Court would be bound to accept as “true” if and when the Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint.

That sounds a lot like fraud on the court, and it suggests someone has gone to considerable lengths to discredit Watkins (at best) and cost him huge sums of money (at worst). In its complaint filed September 1, the SEC alleged Watkins defrauded professional athletes and other investors out of millions of dollars.

A Waste Management truck
(From reuters.com)
The SEC alleges that Watkins and his companies, Masada Resource Group and Watkins Pencor LLC, falsely informed investors their funds would be used to support waste-to-energy ventures. At the heart of the fraud, according to the SEC, were Watkins' assurances that Waste Management Inc. (WMI), a large international waste-treatment firm, was poised to acquire the Watkins companies in a deal alleged to involve a purchase price of more than $2 billion.

The SEC claims Watkins knew the deal was not going to happen. Watkins says the SEC had documents proving the deal was in the works. From Watkins dismissal letter:

[The SEC] knew from documents in its possession that former Texas Lt. Governor Ben Barnes, a well-known and respected businessman, formed a limited liability company with Masada on May 3, 2011, for the specific purpose of pursuing the deployment of Masada waste-to-ethanol facilities throughout the United States and internationally in an alliance with WMI and Waste Corporation of America (WCA). [The SEC] also knew that: (a) Barnes was the lead partner on getting the WMI-Masada strategic alliance deal done, and (b) WCA CEO Tom Fatjo was assisting Barnes in this transaction. 
[The SEC] knew that Masada and Barnes believed in good faith that the value of the contemplated WMI business alliance or acquisition transaction could exceed $2 billion because Section 4.6(c) of the Masada-Barnes Operating Agreement specifically provided a formula for calculating Barnes' compensation for a WMI investment or acquisition transaction in excess of $2 billion. Additionally, [the SEC] knew that Barnes received voluminous due-diligence documents on Masada that were transmitted to WCA and WMI, including detailed financial modeling prepared by a New York City financial analyst with impeccable credentials and no relationship with Watkins. The financial model entailed a 10-facility deployment plan with WMI over a 5-year period that had an estimated economic value to Masada of $2 to $4 billion. 

Watkins then provides details on developments beyond his control that caused the deal to fall through. The most crucial hurdle proved to be the departure of Carl Rush from WMI in 2012. Writes Watkins at Facebook:

Rush was WMI’s Senior VP for Organic Growth and the executive who oversaw WMI’s biofuels investments/acquisitions. Rush was also WMI’s designated point person for the Masada transaction. His unexpected departure was announced after Barnes advised Masada that WMI was arranging a second meeting with Masada’s CEO for the purpose of presenting the contemplated business alliance transaction to WMI’s CEO and Lead Director in late August or early September 2012. Even then, Barnes conveyed to Masada in writing that Rush could still get the Masada-WMI deal done from outside of WMI. As it turned out, he could not.

Where is SEC v. Watkins, et al headed? That's hard to say, but Watkins' dismissal letter includes the following language about the Alabama political scene:

The investigation was . . . an accommodation to influential third parties who are personal adversaries of Watkins who had access to top officials in the Atlanta Regional Office. This access allowed these third parties to improperly impact the course and outcome of the investigation.

Will these third parties be identified during the course of litigation? Could Watkins take legal action against them? Were their actions criminal? If so, it could provide more insight into the ugly realities of Alabama politics.

For now, near the end of his Facebook post on the matter, Watkins fires a shot at the SEC that seems to squarely nail its target:

The SEC complaint achieved its intended result. The lawsuit has harassed the Defendants’ businesses and damaged their good reputations among business partners worldwide and in the general public.

As it turns out, the biggest fraudster of them all is the SEC, the regulatory agency that slept through the Great Recession of 2008 and that is missing in action in the wake of a massive fraud scheme announced last week at Wells Fargo, in which 2 million bank and credit card accounts were fraudulently opened at a publicly traded bank.

Zing!





Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Did required investigation show deputy was high when he broke my wife's arm -- or he failed a polygraph test about the incident? We still are looking for answers


Missouri Sheriff Jim Arnott
(From ky3.com)
Was the Missouri deputy, who brutalized my wife, Carol, and broke her arm, high on cocaine or meth or some other stimulant? Did he tell the truth about events that led to Carol's injuries, which included heavy bruising of both arms and a possible concussion? Is he fit to continue serving as a law-enforcement officer?

These issues particularly resonate now because we recently passed the one-year anniversary of the unlawful eviction in Springfield, Missouri, that led to Carol's injuries, sent her briefly to jail, and left me (and our late kitty kat, Baxter) homeless for several hours last Sept. 9, spending most of the afternoon and evening in an area park, under shade trees. (Let it not be said that I don't know what it's like to be a hobo in a park.)

According to the Greene County Sheriff's Office Policy and Procedure Manual, all of the above questions (and many more) should have been answered as part of an investigation that is required after any "critical incident." What is a critical incident? It's described as "use of force . . . by or against a Greene County Sheriff's Office employee . . . which causes serious physical injury or death to any person." (See page 110 of manual.)

Carol's arm was shattered so severely during an unlawful eviction on September 9, 2015, that it required repair from a trauma surgeon, not an orthopedist, and physical therapists have said she might be able to regain 75 percent usage of her left arm, as a best result. She clearly suffered a "serious physical injury," which amounts to a "critical incident" that should have triggered a wide-ranging investigation.

As we have already shown, that is supposed to include interviews with victims (Carol) and witness/victims (me), but that has not happened. Have any of the other required investigative steps been taken? Is Sheriff Jim Arnott, who caused Carol to be falsely arrested and imprisoned for "assaulting an officer," interested in getting at the truth and holding the appropriate individuals (possibly including him) accountable? We have doubts about that.

Here is part of what already should have happened in the required investigative process (See page 112 of manual):

Involved Deputies will submit to any/or all of the following: blood, urine, breath or other chemical test as requested by the Administrative Investigator.

One of the major unanswered question about the incident is this: Why would any reasonable police officer, during an eviction that could not legally be conducted on the date in question anyway, attack a woman who committed no offense, posed no threat to him, said nothing threatening to him, and simply was trying to retrieve personal items as she had been given permission to do?

X-ray of Carol Shuler's broken arm
I can think of one or two possible answers to those questions: (1) The eviction was planned with the intention of roughing up Carol or me or both of us -- meaning the officer was doing what he had been instructed to do by some superior; (2) The officer was under the influence of a mind-altering substance.

The sheriff's policy and procedural manual addresses the second issue at some length. (See page 117 of manual):

During the initial investigation the Administrative Investigator shall facilitate the toxicology analysis of the following: Blood and/or urine and breath to determine the presence of alcohol, amphetamine, methamphetamine, oxycodone, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, opiates, THC, cocaine, PCP and propoxypene. This toxicology screening will be billed to the GCSO and should be conducted at the GCSO’s preferred medical provider when possible. The Involved Deputy should sign a medical release waiver at the time of the screening permitting the GCSO to obtain the results of the toxicology screening for administrative investigation purposes.

Sherriff officials seem to be well aware that an officer could be high as the proverbial kite while on duty, causing serious risk to the public. Officials also seem aware that officers have been known to lie, especially when they have been involved in a "critical incident." (See page 113 of the manual):

Involved Deputies shall submit to a polygraph examination if requested by the Administrative Investigator.

Common sense seems to hold that a polygraph exam would be administered only after the victim and witnesses have been interviewed. Since that hasn't happened, does it mean Sheriff Arnott and his staff have made no effort to determine if the officer's version of events is based in reality? The answer, in our view, likely is yes.

Finally, the involved deputy is to be removed from the force until investigators have determined he is fit to return to duty. (See page 113 of manual):

Involved Deputies will be placed on administrative leave; either paid or unpaid until both investigations [criminal and administrative] are either concluded or reach a level of completion which allows the Sheriff to make an informed return to duty decision. Prior to returning to duty the Involved Deputy will be required to take a Fit for Duty Exam at the expense of the employer.

How long was this deputy on leave? Was he ever on leave at all? What were the results of his Fit for Duty Exam? How could the results be accurate if Carol and I have not been interviewed, and the deputy likely has not been required to submit to a polygraph exam? Does the FBI need to be notified about shenanigans in the Greene County Sheriff's Office?

Here is another intriguing question: What if this was not just an ordinary street deputy? What if he was a member of the sheriff's administrative team? What if that helps explain his aggressive and abusive actions toward Carol. Arnott was standing about five feet away when Carol was assaulted. What if the individual conducting the assault was someone who serves just under Arnott, high up on the department's chain of command?

The sheriff's manual in Greene County, Missouri, indicates "critical incidents" are to be treated with the utmost seriousness -- and any involved deputy is to undergo a variety of tests and procedures to ensure he acted reasonably and is fit to return to the force.

Is that process treated seriously in real life or is it mostly just words on a page. At this point, to us, it looks like words on a page -- and nothing else.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Jessica Garrison claims all who were close to her knew that reports of an affair with Luther Strange were false--but her ex-husband tells a very different story


Cars are backed up trying to enter VictoryLand casino in
Macon County. The facility reopened at 2 p.m. today.
(From montgomeryadvertiser.com)
(Note at 3:10 p.m.: A helpful reader points out the irony of this report about the relationship between Jessica Garrison and Luther Strange being published on the same day that VictoryLand reopens. In fact, the casino reopened about one hour ago, and a report from The Montgomery Advertiser today indicates cars are backed up trying to enter the facility. A sign that Luther Strange has been neutered regarding gambling issues? Might be too early to say for sure. Ironic? A definite yes on that.)

Alabama Republican operative Jessica Medeiros Garrison claimed in an article last fall at marieclaire.com that everyone who knows her knew that reports of her extramarital affair with state Attorney General Luther Strange were false.

It turns out that claim, like quite a few others Garrison made in the Marie Claire piece, is not quite true.

Her husband at the time, Tuscaloosa insurance man and school-board president Lee Garrison, did not know whether the claims were true or false -- and he admitted to being familiar with rumors that were flying around the state, including one that had Luther Strange being the biological father of the Garrisons' child.

How do we know Lee Garrison's feelings on the subject? We asked him. And we recorded the interview for a series of brief YouTube videos. (See videos below.)

Here is how marieclaire.com described Jessica Garrison's version of events, in an as-told-to story that apparently included no questions from the magazine's writer, Liz Welch. Here are Garrison's words:

My saga started in July 2013. A friend texted me, asking, "Do you know this guy, Roger Shuler?" I didn't, but quickly learned he was the political blogger behind the website Legal Schnauzer and author of a new post that would forever change my life: "AG Luther Strange Has a Messy Extra-Marital Affair with Ex-Campaign Aide Jessica Garrison."

That was my name in a headline, alleging I had had an affair with my friend and former boss, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange. (I managed his 2010 campaign.) I was shocked—it was usually the politicians whose names were dragged through the mud, not mine. Honestly, it was so ludicrous that I did something like a proverbial shoulder shrug and tried to move on. And thankfully everyone who knows me knew it wasn't true . . .

Not everyone, Jessica, including the man you were married to at the time. In our interview, Lee Garrison said he did not know if the affair story was true or not. He and his attorneys looked into a number of issues during the divorce, and asked pointed questions, but never were able to nail down the facts.

Lee Garrison did state, in heartfelt and firm tones, that the child in question -- Michael Garrison -- is his. Lee Garrison's statements convinced us, and we never reported that Luther Strange was the boy's biological father -- even though Jessica Garrison, and possibly Strange, claimed under oath that I had published such reports, and they largely formed the basis for her $3.5-million default judgment against me in a defamation lawsuit. That judgment, by the way, is void as a matter of law and can be attacked as such at any time.

What is Lee Garrison's take on all of this? Let's take a look at highlights from five videos that comprise our interview with him:

Video No. 1

At the time of his divorce from Jessica Garrison, Lee Garrison was well aware of widespread rumors that his wife had an affair with Luther Strange, for whom she served as campaign manager. Lee Garrison said he never was able to nail down facts about an alleged affair, but he felt compelled to point out that Michael Garrison is his biological child. From the interview:

"My attorneys looked into a lot of different things, but never turned up anything. I will confirm that there is no question Michael is my child. You can look at him. He's got my nose, my mouth, and he's short, so there you go. . . . There's no question he is our child. I heard rumors (about an affair) but was never able to substantiate any of that stuff. . . . No infidelity was mentioned by either one of us in our divorce. . . . It was more of a personality disagreement than anything else."

Here is the video . . .





Video No. 2

So why is the divorce file sealed? Lee Garrison said he was unaware it had been sealed. That suggests Jessica Garrison requested the case be sealed. Why would she do that? She has not responded to multiple interview requests from us. Says Lee Garrison:

"I can ask my attorneys but from all the divorce documents I've got . . . I don't know of anything that was sealed.

"I didn't know of anything being sealed. We wound up with joint physical custody and joint legal custody. I pay child support, but no alimony."


Here is the video . . .





Video No. 3

Lee Garrison touched briefly on a business relationship, formation of a property-related LLC, he and Jessica Garrison had with Erik Davis Harp, who went on to be indicted as a ringleader in an offshore sports-gambling operation. Harp since has been arrested on a firearms charge in Bay County, Florida. Here is the video . . .





Video No. 4

Garrison said he was not able to obtain hard and fast proof of an affair. The divorce, he said, came largely when he and Jessica found themselves going in different directions. Here is the video . . .





Video No. 5

Lee Garrison closed the interview by reiterating that Luther Strange did not cause the divorce and that Michael Garrison is his child. But he also added a curious statement about the nature of big-time politics in Alabama:

"The gist is that Luther had nothing to do with the divorce, and Michael is our child. When you look at pictures of me at his age, he is the spitting image, so I'm not remotely worried about that . . . . In relation to all the other stuff, people ought to be accountable for whatever they do, especially when you get into public office. Jessica and Luther are big boys and girls, just like I am. When you step into the arena, you step into the arena."

Here is the video:



Friday, September 9, 2016

Justice Department drops case against Robert McDonnell, while Don Siegelman remains in prison and the future for Democrats looks bleak in South


Robert McDonnell
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has dropped its criminal case against former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, after the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year overturned his convictions on public corruption charges.

That means McDonnell, who (along with his wife) received more than $175,000 in loans and gifts from a supporter, is a free man -- while former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, who records show did not receive a penny in a similar case -- remains housed at a federal prison in Oakdale, Louisiana.

What are the differences in the two cases? There aren't many; the most important one might be this -- McDonnell is a Republican, and Siegelman is a Democrat.

In legal terms, the major difference involves context -- Siegelman took a campaign donation that the government claimed was a bribe, while McDonnell took . . . well, bribes that the government claimed were bribes. The Supreme Court has decided that's OK, while it has refused several times to even hear the Siegelman case. Here is how we explained such nonsense in a previous post:

America's federal bribery laws are a confusing mishmash, covered under several different statutes, written in language that is largely unintelligible. In fact, the statutes are so confusing that courts often turn to case law to determine what is, and is not, illegal.

The Siegelman case, for example, largely was governed by McCormick v. United States, 500 U.S. 257 (1991). He and (Richard) Scrushy were prosecuted under 18 U.S. Code 666, which is known as the "federal funds bribery" statute and generally applies to cases involving campaign contributions. (Scrushy's donation to help pay down debt for the Alabama Democratic Party, after Siegelman's lottery proposal had been defeated, was considered a campaign contribution.)

McDonnell, however, was prosecuted under 18 U.S. Code 201, a general bribery statute that usually does not involve campaign contributions. On the case-law side, McDonnell invoked Evans v. United States, 504 U.S. 255 (1992), which tends to involve bribery outside the context of a campaign contribution.

The bottom line: In Siegelman, Scrushy gave a campaign contribution. In McDonnell, constituent Jonny Williams showered McDonnell and his wife with gifts, which went directly to them, but he apparently did not make a campaign contribution. That means the two cases are covered by different law -- Siegelman is covered by the 666 statute and the McCormick case; McDonnell is covered by the 201 statute and the Evans case.

Who are the losers in all of this? Obviously, Don Siegelman is on the losing side. I would submit that the U.S. Supreme Court is a loser. Along with Bush v. Gore in 2000, McDonnell gives Americans an additional reason not to trust their high court.

The biggest losers, however, are the American people. The South has produced numerous substantive Democrats over the years, and our country needs those voices to be heard. But will they, and their financial supporters, go into hiding in the wake of what happened to Don Siegelman and Richard Scrushy? Has that process already started?

Karl Rove, and others who engineered the Siegelman prosecution, don't mind a few black Democrats who represent heavily black Congressional districts. But they are terrified of a white Democrat who might succeed on a statewide level, become a national star, and present a challenge to the GOP's stranglehold on the South. Don Siegelman fit that description perfectly, and that's probably the No. 1 reason he had to be stopped. Robert McDonnell, while from a Southern state, is a Republican and did not fit that description. That's probably the No. 1 reason he is a free man.

What does that mean for our country? It's not good, even if you are a Republican. We need two healthy parties who can govern, and the GOP already appears to be in free fall with the rise of Donald Trump.

When is the last time you heard of a really promising white Democrat from the South? Perhaps that is why Bernie Sanders, well into his 70s and from Vermont, was Hillary Clinton's only serious challenger in the 2016 primaries? After all, the Siegelman case sends this message: "If you are a white Democrat in the South -- or a financial supporter of a white Democrat in the South -- you risk personal destruction. Even a Democratic president, like Barack Obama, won't lift a finger to free you. And even a DOJ under a Democratic president will do nothing to investigate and prosecute those who wrongfully sent you to prison."

Democrats might feel secure in thinking that Hillary Clinton will win the White House this year. But who will come after her? It probably won't be a Democrat from the South because their numbers likely will keep dwindling.

That could be the "legacy" of the Siegelman case, and Barack Obama helped cut his party's throat in a region where presidential races often are won or lost.