Sunday, April 24, 2016

How and Why David Byrne Led Governor Bentley into a Legal Nightmare - By Donald V. Watkins

How and Why David Byrne Led Governor Bentley into a Legal Nightmare
By Donald V. Watkins
©Copyrighted and Published (via Facebook) on April 24, 2016
As Governor Robert Bentley’s chief legal advisor and consigliere, David B. Byrne, Jr., has done a masterful job of leading the governor into the worst legal nightmare in Alabama gubernatorial history. Using arcane legal tactics from the era of former segregationist Governor John Patterson (1959-1963), Byrne caused Bentley to launch special financial audits of Alabama State University (“ASU”) and Alabama A&M University (“AAMU”), the two flagship HBCUs in the state. No other state universities have been targeted for special audits during Bentley’s five years as governor.
Byrne used his official position and close personal friendship with Montgomery U.S. Attorney George Beck and state prosecutors to finagle them into spending three years and nearly four million dollars on criminal investigations of ASU and AAMU. These investigations scrutinized nearly $3 billion in expenditures by ASU and AAMU over a six-year audit period. Byrne then pressured prosecutors to find any kind of wrongdoing at the two universities.
In the end, no present or former ASU official was charged with civil or criminal wrongdoing. One AAMU official was indicted in 2015 on a highly questionable theft charge arising from a $6,535 payment to him for moving expenses incurred when he moved in 2009 from South Carolina to Huntsville. The official’s employment contract expressly provided for payment of this moving expense. After collaborating with Byrne, prosecutors used this expense payment as the basis for fabricating a trumped up charge of theft and forgery against this official. The charge was nothing more than a PR fig leaf to justify the sky-high cost of two unproductive investigations.
Byrne’s manipulation of Bentley placed the governor on a collision course with ASU, AAMU, and their supporters. The investigations commenced while ASU and AAMU were still basking in the afterglow of their monumental federal court victory in Alabama’s long-running college and university desegregation case. John F. Knight, Jr., a decorated Vietnam War hero and Alabama legislator, was the lead plaintiff in this 29-year old case. Knight’s groundbreaking litigation resulted in a landmark court order requiring the state of Alabama to (a) award new academic programs to ASU and AAMU and (b) provide nearly $500 million in equitable funding (above the regular state appropriations) to these two universities. This historic court victory was achieved in the face of a KKK cross burning at Knight's home, death threats, and massive resistance from state officials closely aligned with the University of Alabama and Auburn University. Some of these officials privately vowed swift retaliation against Knight, ASU and AAMU whenever the federal court ended its active supervision in the case. This event occurred in 2010.
Byrne assumed the primary responsibility for carrying out the promised retaliation. He began to discharge his responsibilities in this regard by encouraging Bentley to initiate a 2013 criminal investigation of Knight and ASU and a 2014 investigation of AAMU. As an accommodation to the governor, prosecutors went after Knight, ASU and AAMU with a vengeance.
While Byrne’s use of questionable legal tactics in this situation may come as a shock to some, it shouldn’t. His action in causing Bentley to become entangled in the ASU and AAMU financial audits and criminal investigations is merely one example of Byrne conducting business as usual. Byrne’s use of unethical means to carry out retaliatory agendas only reinforces his repetitive history of failure, a history that first came to light in the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2008.
On August 14, 2009, federal and state regulators took control of Colonial Bank, a regional banking powerhouse based in Montgomery. The seizure of Colonial's 346 branches and $26 billion in assets made it the sixth-biggest bank failure in U.S. history, the worst of 2009, and the third largest during the credit crisis that plunged the financial markets into turmoil in 2008. Colonial’s collapse cost the FDIC $2.8 billion. Colonial shareholders lost billions more in stock value. Thousands of bank employees lost their jobs.
As Colonial’s executive vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary, Byrne was in charge of the bank’s legal affairs and regulatory compliance when Colonial failed as a financial institution. Byrne signed off on the legal review of Colonial’s regulatory filings with the U.S Securities and Exchange Commission. He also reviewed and cleared a highly suspect TARP “bailout” funding application that Colonial submitted to the U.S. Treasury Department.
After submission of the bailout application, federal agents raided the bank. They found a $3 billion fraud scheme operating right underneath Byrne’s nose. A senior bank vice president in Florida was charged, convicted, and sentenced to eight years in prison for her role in the fraud. Byrne escaped criminal prosecution.
In 2012, Bentley rescued Byrne from the ranks of the unemployed by hiring him to replace R. Cooper Shattuck as his chief legal advisor. This action came after Byrne’s wife, Alice Ann Byrne, brokered a deal with Bentley to take care of Rebekah and Jonathan Mason as state employees in exchange for a job for her husband. Alice, who has served as the general counsel of the State Personnel Department since 2000, practically ran the Department from her position as the chief lawyer. Bentley agreed to this deal.
After Byrne joined Bentley’s staff, he and Alice took care of the governor’s wishes with respect to Bentley’s favorite state employees. They arranged for former trooper Wendell Ray Lewis to receive a more than $800,000 in total base pay and overtime as a member of Bentley’s executive security detail while also orchestrating Lewis’ highly questionable promotion from sergeant to lieutenant in 2014. They aided Bentley in directing more than $400,000 in total compensation to Jonathan Mason, as the director of Serve Alabama.
Byrne advised Jonathan on Serve Alabama’s distribution of $20 million in grants and program benefits to religious and service organizations across the state. These payments included substantial financial contributions each year to the First Baptist Church of Montgomery Foundation, where Byrne serves as a board member.
Byrne also cleared the way for Rebekah Mason, the governor’s mistress/lover/partner in crime, to operate her public relations firm, RCM Communications, Inc., while working full time as Bentley’s communications director. Undeterred by state ethics laws, Rebekah conducted RCM’s business from the governor’s office and used state resources to further her private business interests.
Byrne’s advice has led Bentley into a legal nightmare that has spawned state and federal criminal investigations into the governor’s racketeering conduct. Byrne caused Bentley to believe that his executive powers as governor placed him above the law. As it turns out, Byrne was completely wrong. Now, Bentley is the target of two criminal investigations, and he faces a media firing squad everywhere he goes.
Privately, Byrne never cared much for the governor. He knew that Alabama Education Association Executive Secretary Paul Hubbard (now deceased) and Alabama Democratic Conference Chairman Joe L. Reed backed Bentley in the 2010 Republican primary elections in an effort to defeat ultra-conservative gubernatorial candidate Bradley Byrne. Bentley won with heavy financial support from AEA. Byrne thinks Bentley is a governor with limited intellectual capacity and poor leadership skills. Byrne tolerated Bentley’s limitations because he needed a job and because he could use his legal advice to easily manipulate Bentley.
Byrne’s questionable legal tactics and advice have exploded into one hot mess for Bentley. As chief legal advisor, Byrne has: (a) caused a meltdown in Bentley’s governorship; (b) destroyed the “A” category Wall Street credit ratings, long-standing accreditation status, and unbroken string of pristine audit opinions (from Nationally-ranked accounting firms) enjoyed by ASU and AAMU; (c) ruined employee morale within the officer ranks of Alabama state troopers; (d) placed well-meaning recipients of Serve Alabama money in harms way of state and federal criminal investigations; (e) permanently soiled the reputation of close friend and former law partner George Beck as a federal prosecutor; (f) caused state prosecutors to waste millions of dollars on criminal investigations that were nothing more than payback vendettas against ASU and AAMU; and (g) placed Bentley at great risk of a criminal prosecution for facilitating Rebekah’s use of taxpayer money and state resources to further her private business interests and her "sex for power" scandal with Bentley.
Governor Robert Bentley deserved better legal advice than what he received from David Byrne. As chief legal advisor, Byrne has failed Bentley miserably and repeatedly. Like the shareholders of Colonial Bank, Bentley is now paying the ultimate price for Byrne’s catastrophic failure as a chief legal advisor.

By Donald V Watkins

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