Alabama Governor Robert J. Bentley is likely to face prosecution for violating state ethics. A state ethics panel on Wednesday also concluded Bentley’s involvement in breaking campaign finance laws besides playing with state ethics.
The Alabama Ethics Commission observed that there is “probable cause” to make it believe that Alabama Governor Robert J. Bentley has violated the Alabama Ethics Act and Fair Campaign Practices Act. The commission’s findings took a year to investigate the matter and come to that conclusion. The commission referred the impeachment investigation issue to the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office.
While the commission ruled that the Alabama governor has violated the ethics and misused funds, his lawyer, Bill Athanas, said that his client maintained innocence. He also stated that there was no strong evidence that could lead to the levying of charges on Robert J. Bentley.
“We disagree strongly with the result, but I think it is important to keep in mind that it is a finding of probable cause, not finding of a violation… The battle goes on,” ABC News quoted Athanas as saying. “It’s important to keep in mind, this is simply a finding of probable cause. It’s not a finding of a violation,” Athanas added.
The state ethics commission said that officers were asked to interrogate almost 45 witnesses. The district attorney office’s people analyzed around 33,000 documents to investigate the matter. According to law, if a person is found violating the two acts — Alabama Ethics Act and Fair Campaign Practices Act — intentionally, he will have committed Class B felonies. People found guilty under Class B felonies have to face two to 20 years of imprisonment for each violation plus a penalty of up to $20,000.
The Alabama Ethics Commission also found that the “nice guy” of the state was not that nice. It also took into consideration the audio recordings that have been obtained as evidence in the matter. In the video, Robert J. Bentley is apparently heard having a sexually-motivated conversation with a former aide, Rebekah Mason.
The 2014 audio recording was one of the major issues that drew the attention of authorities, thereby leading to the impeachment investigation last year. The commission also found that the Alabama Governor misused state resources for his alleged affair.
“I worry about loving you so much,” Robert J. Bentley says as heard in the audio. “When I stand behind you, and I put my arms around you, and I put my hands on your breasts, and I put my hands [unintelligible] and just pull you real close. I love that, too.”
The affair came into focus when the wife of the Alabama governor filed a divorce in September, 2015, after 50 years of marriage. According to reports, the audio recording was made public by the Bentley family, who were believed to have captured the voices to find out if Robert J. Bentley really had an affair. The revelation made Mason resign.
Though Robert J. Bentley admitted that he made a mistake as he had an affair, he denied having a physical relationship with his former aide at the same time. After the release of the audio recording, the Alabama governor conducted a press conference. There he said that he had never taken the law for granted and hence he had not done anything legally wrong. He admitted making a mistake in his personal life and made an apology to the state and his family.
“I made a mistake. Two years ago, I made a mistake,” Robert J. Bentley said in 2016.
[Featured Image by Mario Tama/Getty Images]