Times Staff Report
A federal judge today sentenced former state lawmaker Oliver L. Robinson Jr. to 33 months in prison after Robinson admitted taking bribes to help fight environmental cleanup efforts in mostly black areas in Birmingham.
U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon ordered Robinson to report to prison in eight weeks on Nov. 27 at 2 p.m. The judge said he will request that Robinson be placed in a facility as close to home as possible.
Robinson, who previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy, bribery, wire fraud, and tax evasion, apologized to the court, the community he used to represent, the University of Alabama at Birmingham where he starred in basketball and his family. “Every day I look at my wife and children knowing I have negatively changed their lives,” he said.
Robinson appeared in court with a check for $169,151, the full amount of restitution, which were his “life’s savings,” according to his lawyer.
Character witnesses for the ex-lawmaker included the former UAB basketball team doctor, now Robinson’s Bible study teacher, who said he was broken and has a contrite heart.
Robinson, 58, last year pleaded guilty to 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 had testified against a coal company executive and lawyer who were later convicted on bribery and conspiracy charges. He testified he had been given a consulting contract and asked to use his influence as a public figure to oppose the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts.
“Robinson betrayed his constituents and neighbors in north Birmingham and Tarrant, selling his elected office to special interests for personal profit. An elected official can scarcely commit a more egregious crime,” said U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town. “This former state legislator will never again hold elected office and he will spend the next three years of his life in federal prison.”
“Individuals in a position of public trust must be held accountable when that trust is violated,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp Jr. “Today, the court is holding Mr. Robinson accountable. Citizens can rest assured knowing that the FBI and our partners will continue to be there to bring those who violate that trust to the bar of justice.”
“Elected government officials should be held to a higher ethical standard and it was obvious that Robinson chose greed over doing the honest thing,” said Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Holloman, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation. “IRS-CI will continue to put resources on these public corruption investigations in an effort to clean up dirty politics.”
He had been charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for accepting a valuable contract between the Birmingham law firm Balch & Bingham and the Oliver Robinson Foundation to influence and reward Robinson for using his position as a member of the Alabama House of Representatives, vice-chairman of the Jefferson County Legislative Delegation, and as an elected representative of citizens of Birmingham to pressure and advise public officials to oppose the Environmental Protection Agency’s prioritization and expansion of a North Birmingham EPA Superfund site.
Robinson represented Alabama’s House District 58 from 1998 until he resigned Nov. 30, 2016.
He had faced a maximum penalty for conspiracy of five years in prison; a maximum penalty for bribery of 10 years; a maximum penalty for each count of wire fraud of 20 years and a maximum penalty for tax evasion of five years.
Updated to include comment from U.S. Attorney, FBI and IRS
Associated Press contributed to this report.