Appellate Practice

Appeals court confirms bribery convictions of lawyer, coal company executive

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The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Atlanta has upheld the convictions of a Birmingham, Alabama, lawyer and an Alabama coal company executive in a scheme to bribe a state legislator to thwart U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cleanup efforts.

While Joel Iverson Gilbert, a former partner at Balch & Bingham, and David Lynn Roberson, former vice president of government and regulatory affairs at the Drummond Co., argued on appeal that their actions did not meet the legal definition of bribery, the 11th Circuit disagreed in its May 27 decision. and Law360 have coverage.

A May 28 press release from Prim F. Escalona, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, is here.

In July 2018, a federal jury found Gilbert and Roberson guilty of bribery, honest services wire fraud, conspiracy and money laundering.

At trial, the government showed that Gilbert and Roberson bribed former Alabama State Rep. Oliver Robinson to advocate the Drummond Co.’s opposition to the EPA’s prioritization or expansion of a Superfund site near Robinson’s district in North Birmingham, according to the U.S. attorney’s press release. The EPA had notified a Drummond subsidiary that it may be liable for some of the cleanup costs.

Gilbert and Roberson entered into a contract with Robinson’s nonprofit organization, the Oliver Robinson Foundation, between 2015 and 2016, the press release said. In exchange for $360,000, Robinson spoke to EPA and state environmental officials, secretly taped the meetings, and voted for a state resolution drafted by Gilbert that opposed the EPA’s efforts.

The 11th Circuit affirmed in its decision that Gilbert and Roberson “concealed payments of hundreds of thousands of dollars to an Alabama representative through his charitable foundation in exchange for ‘advocacy’ and ‘community outreach’ intended to undermine the Environmental Protection Agency’s (‘EPA’) efforts to clean up a Superfund site.”

“The 11th Circuit confirmed what the jury understood,” Escalona said in the press release. “Joel Gilbert and David Roberson paid a state representative to deprive the voters of North Birmingham of their voice. The appellate court’s decision makes clear that the very purpose of our bribery laws is to prohibit such efforts to subvert the will of the community.”

Robinson testified for the government and was sentenced to two years and nine months in prison after pleading guilty to several charges, according to He was released last year as part of the Bureau of Prisons’ review of inmates with COVID-19 risk factors.

Gilbert was sentenced to five years in federal prison, and Roberson was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in federal prison, reports.

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