Testimony begins in Blakely theft and ethics trial

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ATHENS, Ala. – Monday was the start of week two of the trial of Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakey and the first day of witness testimony.

Court started with Judge Pamela Baschab denying Blakely’s motion to dismiss theft charges related to campaign donations.

The defense said Blakely was the owner of the campaign account and theft is depriving the owner of his property, so he couldn’t steal from himself.

The state argued Alabama law sharply limits how campaign funds can be used and Blakely couldn’t use the money for just any purpose.

Monday’s testimony largely focused on campaign finance.

Sheriff Blakely faces 11 charges of theft of campaign funds and using his office for personal gain. Friday, prosecutors from the Alabama Attorney General’s Office said Blakely took money intended for his campaign and deposited it in his personal account on several occasions.

Monday, prosecutors called campaign donors, the Elections Supervisor for the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office and then they got into Blakely’s bank records.

Sheriff Blakely has been in office since 1983, so he’s had a number of campaigns. Prosecutors focused on payments that donors said were intended for his campaign in 2014 and 2015.

Those included a $1,500 check from the Alabama Realtors Association and a check from a Marshall County car dealership. Prosecutors introduced bank records that show Blakely deposited the money in his personal account and did not include the donations on his campaign disclosure forms.

Another check to Blakely for $3,000 from a political consulting firm was also deposited in his personal account.

A state elections official testified all donations of value are to be disclosed.

Jeremy Walker, a lawyer and the Alabama Association of Realtors Executive Officer was the first to testify.

Thomas Watkins, Blakely’s campaign treasurer, was the first witness after the afternoon break. He was responsible for keeping track of all the money and reporting it to the state.

Much of his testimony involved recalling transactions between the sheriff and the campaign account. Several times Watkins was shown a check by prosecutors, often times for thousands of dollars, and he replied that he had never seen the check and didn’t record the transaction.

Watkins also testified that the sheriff requested $3,000 for a trip to Washington D.C for what he described as “an election school.”

But Blakely never went.

Watkins said he had no clue, though he knew at the time that Sheriff Blakely’s wife had been sick. He also said he forgot to record that transaction in his ledger, saying he was distracted by some unfortunate personal life events.

On cross-examination, Watkins explained some gaps in the documentation were the result of a flood that had ruined the documents.

Watkins said Blakely repaid the campaign $3,000 for the DC trip in 2018.

The last witness of the day, former Huntsville-area campaign consultant Trent Willis sparked a sharp battle at the end of Monday’s proceedings.

Willis testified about a $4,000 payment his firm made to Blakely, but his own background became an issue. The defense said Willis is under investigation by the Attorney General’s Office for theft, and that his testimony should be removed from the record.

Monday night, the defense moved to have at least one of the charges dismissed, along with making serious allegations about the state’s case. The defense filed a motion to dismiss count two of the indictment, which directly relates to Willis’ testimony.

In the filing, the defense alleges Willis is under investigation by the Attorney General’s Office but that was not disclosed to the defense until after he testified against Blakely.

The defense wants all of Willis’ testimony removed from the record, along with all related evidence.

The defense said it asked the state last February to disclose any details it has with witnesses or any witnesses that have engaged in criminal activity but have not been charged.

The defense asked for a mistrial Monday afternoon after they learned about the investigation of Willis. The judge denied that motion but said they would address this matter Tuesday morning.

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