Former Balch & Bingham partner convicted of bribing ex-lawmaker to oppose Superfund expansion
A federal jury in Birmingham, Alabama, on Friday convicted a former Balch & Bingham partner and a corporate executive for bribing a onetime Alabama lawmaker to oppose expanding and prioritizing a Superfund site.
Jurors convicted former partner Joel Gilbert along with the vice president of government and regulatory affairs at the Drummond Co., David Robertson, according to AL.com, Law360, the Associated Press, the Birmingham Business Journal and a press release. Drummond was a client of Balch & Bingham.
Gilbert and Robertson were convicted of bribery, honest services wire fraud, conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy. Another former partner at Balch & Bingham, Steven McKinney, was dismissed from the case before closing arguments. Former Alabama State Rep. Oliver Robinson had pleaded guilty in September to conspiracy, bribery, wire fraud and tax evasion.
McKinney was chair of Balch & Bingham’s environmental and natural resources practice, and Gilbert was part of the practice. Prosecutors had alleged the defendants paid Robinson $360,000 through a consulting contract with Robinson’s private foundation. The money partly came from corporate contributions—including from Drummond—to a tax-exempt corporation created by Roberson and the lawyers called Alliance for Jobs and the Economy, the indictment had alleged.
Drummond’s ABC Coke was among five companies notified that it could be responsible for the Superfund cleanup, which could have costs tens of millions of dollars. Placing the site on a Superfund priorities list would have allowed long-term cleanup by the Environmental Protection Agency, as long as the state of Alabama agreed to pay 10 percent of the costs, according to the prosecution press release.
The case against McKinney was dismissed after an FBI agent testified she may have misled the grand jury by implying that McKinney personally met with Robinson, the Birmingham Business Journal reports.
Defense lawyers had maintained Robinson acted alone, and his community outreach efforts were legal.
The Drummond Co. issued a statement saying it was disappointed by the jury’s decision to convict and the company considers Roberson to be “a man of integrity who would not knowingly engage in wrongdoing.”
“As testimony in the trial showed, we were assured the firm’s community outreach efforts on our behalf were legal and proper,” the statement said.
Balch & Bingham released this statement by managing partner Stan Blanton: “We respect the trial process and the jury’s verdict. The jury determined that Joel Gilbert engaged in conduct that is contrary to the standards to which each of us at Balch & Bingham is committed and expected to uphold.
“Although our firm was not a party to the case, I and the rest of our partners, associates and staff are deeply disappointed in any conduct that does not adhere to our commitment to the rule of law and to the communities in which we are fortunate to live and work. We all greatly value the trust our clients place in us and have redoubled our efforts to earn that trust. Mr. Gilbert is no longer a partner with or employed by Balch & Bingham.”