U.S. Attorney Charges Former State Rep. Oliver Robinson in bribery conspiracy

Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times

Photo courtesy of Oliver Robinson Facebook page

The U.S. Attorney’s Office today charged former State Rep. Oliver Robinson with accepting bribes from a Birmingham lawyer and an Alabama coal company executive in exchange for advocating their employers’ opposition to EPA actions in North Birmingham. Robinson is also charged with conspiracy and defrauding the people of Alabama.

“The gist of the charges are that Mr. Robinson accepted a valuable contract from a Birmingham law firm in exchange for using his position in the Alabama legislature to advocate for the position of a coal company, which was a client of the law firm in opposing a proposal from the environmental protection agency to expand the area covered by the current 35th Avenue superfund site,” said U.S. Attorney Robert O. Posey.

The communities currently covered by the superfund include Collegeville, Fairmont and Harriman Park. This proposal would put additional Birmingham neighborhoods on a national priority list for cleanup and remediation of deposits of toxic chemicals into the soil of those neighborhoods; the expansion would have included Tarrant and Inglenook.

The communities were designated as a Superfund site after finding elevated levels of arsenic, lead and benzo(a)pyrene during soil sampling.

At the time of the charged conspiracy, Birmingham Law Firm Balch & Bingham represented Drummond Coal and its affiliate ABC Coke.

“ABC Coke had been named by EPA as potentially responsible for the clean up of these neighborhoods, and Mr. Robinson’s key act on behalf of the power company and in exchange for the contracts with the law firm were to appear in his capacity as a state representative before the Alabama Environmental Management Commission and before the director of the Alabama Environmental Management Commission to argue against EPA’s declaration and expansion of superfund site and argue on behalf of the interest of the coal company who could have potentially been responsibly tens of millions of dollars in cleanup.” Posey said.

The contracts paid to Robinson totaled $360,000.

“This case gets at the heart of public corruption in Alabama,” Posey said. “Well-funded special interests offer irresistible inducements to public officials. In exchange, the officials represent the interests of those who pay rather than the interests of those who vote. Here a public official betrayed his community to advocate for those who polluted their neighborhoods.”

Robinson is charged with additional accounts of misuse of campaign contributions, paid to his house campaign and for fraud related to solititation of private contributions to a firm he had that ran events in the Birmingham area. The last count also charges Robinson with tax evasion, for his 2015 calendar year returns for failure to report the bribe in the contract payments made. 

The U.S. Attorney’s office also announced that a plea agreement has been filed. Robinson has signed it and the charges will be sent by the court.

“This is a plea agreement where the court will calculate the guidelines and we will make a recommendation within that guideline range,” Posey said. “The guidelines would call for some jailtime.”

Along with agreeing to plead guilty to the charges, Robinson agrees never again to seek elected office and pledges to pay restitution and forfeiture.

Robinson, 57, of Birmingham, represented Alabama’s House District 58 from 1998 until he resigned Nov. 30, 2016. The information also includes fraud charges connected to campaign contributions and to contributions that Robinson solicited for events he sponsored. The final count in the information charges Robinson with tax evasion for the 2015 calendar year.

EPA designated an area of North Birmingham, including the neighborhoods of Harriman Park, Fairmont and Collegeville,

A date has not been set for Robinson to appear in court.