On Monday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the conviction of a coal company executive and a lawyer on charges related to bribing an Alabama state lawmaker.
The two men—David Roberson, vice president of Government and Regulatory Affairs for coal firm Drummond Company, and Joel Gilbert, a partner at law firm Balch & Bingham—paid Alabama State Representative Oliver Robinson $360,000 to oppose an environmental clean-up program near Robinson’s district.
In 2013, Drummond Company, a company that mines and processes coal, was alerted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that one of its subsidiaries could possibly be on the hook to help pay for the cleanup of an EPA-designated Superfund site north of Birmingham, Alabama. The site had tested positive for “elevated levels of arsenic, lead, and benzo(a)pyrene,” according to the Justice Department.
If ABC Coke, the Drummond subsidiary in the area, had been found responsible for the pollution, it “could have cost the company tens of millions of dollars in clean-up costs and fines,” a DOJ press release stated. An environmental advocacy group in the area, called GASP, was also petitioning the EPA to expand the Superfund area, which could have increased Drummond’s liability.
So, Roberson and Gilbert paid then-state Rep. Robinson “to persuade north Birmingham residents and governmental agencies to oppose EPA’s actions,” the Justice Department writes. Court documents and testimony show the legislator accepted payments totaling $360,000 through his Oliver Robinson Foundation.
Robinson, a Democrat who served in Alabama’s House of Representatives from 1998 to 2016, pleaded guilty in 2017 to charges of conspiracy, bribery, fraud, and tax evasion. In a non-binding plea agreement last September, Robinson agreed to provide substantial assistance to prosecutors on the bribery case. He has not yet been sentenced.
After accepting payment through Gilbert from Drummond, Robinson appeared before the Alabama Environmental Management Commission and opposed EPA efforts to expand and prioritize the Superfund site north of Birmingham without disclosing the payment.
Robinson also met with EPA officials without disclosing payments he had accepted. Gilbert gave Robinson talking points for that meeting, and the Justice Department says that Robinson secretly recorded it “and then provided the recording to Gilbert.” Robinson also apparently put forward an anti-EPA resolution in the Alabama House in 2015, using words that Gilbert had drafted.
Roberson and Gilbert await sentencing. Drummond Company has not responded to Ars’ request for comment.
In a statement, GASP wrote, “This was a great outcome for the people of north Birmingham and all of Alabama. It is rare that corruption is rooted out, and it’s even more rare that those who do the corrupting are held accountable. We could not be more proud that our years of dogged legal and advocacy work led to the exposure of corruption.”