ATHENS, Ala. – Testimony continued Friday morning in the public corruption trial of Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely.
Immediately after proceedings began, Judge Pamela Baschab said she found no witness intimidation occurred.
Limestone County Investigator Jeremy Kilpatrick said investigators from the Alabama Attorney General’s office approached him before he testified and told him they’d heard he’d been told to lie on the stand.
Baschab found Kilpatrick’s testimony had been unaffected by the conversation.
The prosecution then raised a question about the defense failing to supply a record dealing with Blakely paying back money from his trip to Las Vegas.
A hearing was scheduled for next Tuesday on the issue.
Brad Pullum, who owns a company called Higo, a real estate sales appraisal company, and a music publishing company, was called as the first witness of the day.
Pullum testified Higo was formed to pursue government contracts, build a firing range and gun store, form a business to supply first responders, and work with retired Taiwanese generals to help them acquire secret weapons and a submarine.
Higo’s articles of incorporation showed Brad, his daughter Shelby, and Ton Shen Chiou formed the company in 2015. Brad said his daughter wasn’t involved in day-to-day operations and was an owner to help get government contracts.
The initial plan, according to Pullum, was to build silencers at an existing building, presumably in Limestone County. Pullum added Chiou is the current owner of Higo and the company is officially based in Athens.
Pullum said he has known Chiou for 25 years, and met at a Rogersville pharmacy when he went to expand one-hour photo boxes at area businesses.
Pullum testified that he knows Blakely, who gave him his first job at the Sheriff’s Office; he worked as a reserve deputy at first, then at the jail.
In total, he said he worked for the county for 10 years, and has no hard feelings towards Blakely, who he ran against at one point for sheriff.
Pullum said he continued socializing with Blakely, eating out together a lot, looking at horses, and going to comedy clubs.
Blakely approached Pullum and asked him to sell his parents’ house; Pullum said Blakely needed money more than the house.
The sale contract was executed August 14, 2015, according to Pullum, and the house was supposed to be closed on by September 15, 2015.
Pullum’s testimony said Blakely approached him several times asking when the sale was going to close.
Pullum added he helped get Chiou to loan money to Blakely, and a copy of check for $50,000 from Chiou to Blakely was shown in court.
When Blakely attempted to sell his parents’ house, there was a lien on it; Pullum said somebody had borrowed against the house.
Pullum tried paying off the lien with a $22,000 check written off Higo’s account, but it bounced.
On a second attempt, Pullum managed to pay the lien off, meaning he and Chiou had loaned Blakely $72,000 in a week.
Blakely received a HUD settlement on September 18, 2015; the house sold for $78,000, $67,000 of which was cash.
Pullum said Blakely endorsed the check, payable to Pullum; he explained Blakely was paying back the money he and Chiou had loaned him.
Another check had been written from Blakely to Pullum on September 17 for $3,600; Pullum said it was a realtor commission.
It was discovered Pullum and Chiou had agreed to cover part of the closing to make sure Blakely got a full $68,500 from the sale.
Blakely still owed $773 to Pullum and Chiou, but Pullum said he never asked for it back.
Pullum then discussed renovation to the Higo building. He wanted lead sheets, presumably in the walls, for secure communications.
Pullum said he asked for inmate labor to assist with adding the lead and said Blakely sent three inmates to do it.
The contractor would either pick them up at jail or an unemployed friend of Pullum’s would get them and drop them back off.
Checks showed Higo paid inmates $10 for 24 hours of labor across two days – $240 apiece.
However, Pullum said he wasn’t sure if the inmates actually got the checks, or if they ultimately finished work that was still unfinished after the two days of work.
On cross-examination, Pullum said he sold Blakely’s parents’ home because he was a friend who needed to sell a house, not because he’s the sheriff.
Pullum also admitted Higo was created on August 31, 2015 after he contracted to sell the house, but it was a coincidence, he said.
The defense presented documents showing Zeigler home buys were pushing for a close on the home sale, however, Pullum earlier testified Blakely had pushed for the close.
Pullum explained he may have told Blakely the closing couldn’t be delayed, but couldn’t recall the exact conversation.
Pullum said the lead was hung so Higo could talk to Taiwanese officials.
The state recalled Pullum and he said he had no other lifelong friends who could supply him inmate labor nor does he regularly loan real estate clients $72,000.
Thursday morning’s testimony was focused on a side trip Sheriff Blakely took to Biloxi during a county commissioner’s annual conference in August 2016 in Orange Beach.
A few things stood out. Casino records show Blakely making multiple withdrawals for chips, apparently to play Mississippi stud poker, including a $10,000 chip purchase around 3 a.m. one of those nights.
A casino corporate employee testified that the record shows Blakely bought about $20,000 in chips during a two-night stay and ultimately cashed in $1000 worth.
A prosecutor says it was during that run that he got a $1000 wire transfer from the sheriff’s office.
The defense counter included a dramatic claim that Blakely had won the lottery a month earlier to the tune of $975,000 and he had plenty of cash to spend as he wanted to.
Another issue that stood out was when the defense started the day with a claim of witness intimidation by investigators associated with the prosecution.
Sheriff’s office employee Jeff Kilpatrick told the court Thursday morning those investigators approached him and said they heard he’s been told to lie on the stand. Kilpatrick said he felt intimidated and denied anyone had asked him to lie on Blakely’s behalf.
Judge Baschab said she will take up the witness intimidation issue later.
Thursday afternoon, lawyers for Sheriff Blakely were able to point out that a state audit covering 2014 and 2015, found no missing money and no irregularities. That follows the defense’s theme through the trial so far, that no money is missing.
The audit discussion came during testimony from a supervisor with the Alabama Department of Public Examiners, Kathy Wren, that was notable for its painstaking detail.
Prosecutors tried to highlight the limits of the audit process, getting Wren to acknowledge they do an overview for a given two-year period, but only focus closely on two random months, because of time and staffing issues.
While the state worked to show money taken by the sheriff from the inmate fund may not show up in the audit, the defense was able to introduce an audit into the record, showing clean books.
After the jury was dismissed Friday, the judge took time to discuss a matter that came up earlier in the morning, regarding some records the state says they never received but were produced by a witness in the case during cross-examination.
The judge has agreed to resume court on Monday at 1 p.m. to accommodate that matter.