BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (CN) – A former Alabama legislator pleaded guilty Thursday to accepting bribes from powerful Birmingham law firm to advocate against expansion of a massive EPA Superfund site in the city.
Oliver Robinson, a Birmingham Democrat, resigned from the Alabama House last year, claiming that there was a conflict of interest with his serving in the legislature and his daughter working for then Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican.
On Thursday, Robinson pleaded guilty to federal charges of fraud, bribery, corruption, and tax evasion.
According to the U.S. Attorney's office and FBI investigators, Robinson accepted bribes from the Balch and Bingham law firm in Birmingham to exchange for his working against the Superfund site.
Balch & Bingham client, Drummond Coal and its affiliate ABC Coke, would have potentially had to pay millions to cleanup additional neighborhoods within the city, the authorities said.
In his plea agreement, former Robinson admitted that he was paid a total of $360,000 through his non-profit organization by an attorney representing a company that was potentially responsible for causing pollution in the neighborhoods.
The Oliver Robinson Foundation was established to raise funds to advance financial literacy among students at high schools and historically black colleges through publications and presentations.
According to court documents, the EPA indentified parts of north Birmingham as having elevated levels of arsenic, lead and benzo(a)pyrene through soil sampling and it designated the area as the 35th Avenue Superfund Site. The EPA further proposed adding the site to the National Priorities List that would give the area priority attention needed for clean up.
Following the discovery of the toxins, the EPA sent notice letters to five companies it felt could potentially be responsible for pollution in the area, including ABC Coke, a division of Drummond Company.
Drummond and ABC Coke were represented by local law firm Balch & Bingham and a lawyer named in court documents only as Attorney #1 was responsible for coordinating a response to the EPA’s actions. Attorney #1 was assisted by a Drummond employee, named in the documents as Employee #1. Both of these individuals were registered with the State of Alabama as lobbyists.
According to court documents, Attorney #1 and Employee #1 employed a strategy focused on protecting ABC Coke and Drummond from “the tremendous potential costs associated with being held responsible for pollution within the affected areas.”
The plan was three-fold and included advising residents of north Birmingham to oppose EPA’s actions and paying Oliver Robinson through his foundation to represent Balch & Bingham’s and its clients’ interests in the environmental matters.
Finally, Attorney #1 and Employee #1 formed a tax-exempt corporation named Alliance for Jobs and the Economy and they recruited corporations to contribute money that they used to fund opposition to the EPA’s actions. Drummond Company was one of the corporations that contributed and they used money from the Alliance to pay Robinson.
Robinson was an active participant despite his duty “to honestly, openly and fairly represent the State of Alabama and the citizens and residents of Birmingham.”
Robinson, according to court documents, used his position as a member of the Alabama House and vice-chairman of the Jefferson County Legislative Delegation to “pressure and advise public officials to oppose EPA’s actions in north Birmingham.”