Grand jury looking into Gov. Bentley, others doesn’t file new charges, says holes in state law hindered probe

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- A special grand jury empaneled in 2016 to look at activities of then-Gov. Robert Bentley and others has been resolved without additional charges being filed, Supernumerary Ellen Brooks said today.

The investigation stemmed from allegations related to Bentley’s relationship with his former top political aide Rebekah Mason and whether he used state resources to further the affair or to cover it up.

The grand jury reported seemed to suggest current state law didn’t allow for additional charges.

The grand jury reported that it found a number of “serious concerns about state law that hinder successful prosecution,” including:

  • The ethics law does not cover intimate or romantic relationships with non-spouses;
  • The Governor can appoint a Secretary of Law Enforcement, but the law does not prohibit the Governor from directing or receiving criminal investigations for illegitimate political purposes;
  • State law doesn’t prohibit non-government personnel from serving as a public employee, while being paid by an outside private entity.

The grand jury said it investigated a number of allegations, including:

  • Ethics violations and misuse of funds by then-Alabama Law Enforcement Agency head Spencer Collier;
  • Ethics violations, misuse of state equipment and law enforcement personnel and abuse of power “at the Office of the Governor;
  • Obstruction of justice and witness tampering at the Office of the Governor;
  • Personal use of campaign funds and violations of campaign finance laws;
  • Ethics violations by the Governor’s Office, including inappropriate direction of state funding or jobs on projects to specific people;
  • Nonprofit abuse and ethics violations by Bentley’s nonprofit political group, ACEGOV, and economic development projects.

The report notes Bentley pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges --knowingly converting a campaign contribution to personal use and failure to file a major contribution report. The charges stemmed from the original investigation.

Bentley resigned from office the same day as the guilty plea.

The panel also reported that it did not pursue charges of “use of office for personal gain” or “use of state resources for private benefit,” because they found neither Bentley or any of the other unnamed individuals they investigated actually received any financial gain, or, those individuals were not covered by the law.

The grand jury was empaneled in July 2016 and reviewed complaints of campaign finance violations and violations of state ethics laws. The grand jury reported it heard from 53 witnesses and that the Special Prosecutions Division of the Alabama Attorney General’s Office reviewed 100,000 documents and more than 100 witness statements.