ATHENS, Alabama – Friday morning’s opening statements by the prosecution and defense offered two entirely different images of Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely.
Prosecutors described a desperate campaign by Blakely by moving campaign donations to her personal bank account to avoid overdrafts and taking $ 29,000 from detainees’ accounts for personal use and waiting nearly a year to pay it back. ‘silver.
Defense attorney Robert Tuten said Blakely – who has been elected sheriff 10 times – clearly wouldn’t have kept his job that long without knowing how to run a sheriff’s office and had no shortage of money. Tuten said there is a simple and logical explanation for each of the 11 charges against Blakely.
Tuten repeated to the jury on Friday morning: “If there is no criminal intent, there is no crime.
After four days of questioning jurors, defense and prosecution lawyers chose a jury this morning. 15 people were selected, including three substitutes. The jury is made up of 12 women and three men.
The trial will resume on Monday with the call of the first witnesses.
Kyle Beckman, an assistant attorney general for Alabama, made the opening statement for the prosecution. Beckman said the charges against Blakely stem from Alabama’s ethics laws governing elected officials and its law governing theft.
Blakely faces five ethics charges, including:
- Four counts relating to the use of his office for personal gain.
- One count of using his position to solicit something of value from a subordinate.
He also faces six charges of theft, including theft of campaign funds and the taking of money held by the sheriff’s office.
Beckman argued that Blakely not only converted campaign money for personal use, he also failed to disclose campaign donations on state-required disclosure forms.
Beckman described three instances where the state claims Blakely received checks intended for his campaign account, but instead deposited the money into his personal account at another bank. The prosecution said the checks were $ 1,500 from the Alabama Realtors Association in December 2014, $ 2,500 from Austin Hinds Motors in November 2017 and in a complicated series of transactions, Blakely eventually recovered $ 4,000 from ‘a campaign consultancy in November 2016. The deposit of that check, the prosecution said, kept Blakely from being overdrawn by nearly $ 2,500. In each case, they say, Blakely’s bank account was either overdrawn or about to be overdrawn without those deposits.
The prosecution also maintains that Blakely received a check for $ 3,000 from his campaign with a stated plan to use the money for an elected seminar in Washington, DC, but he never made the trip and has deposited the money into their own account. Prosecutors say without the deposit Blakely’s account would have been overdrafted by more than $ 2,100.
Beckman said Blakely did not pay off the campaign account until three and a half years later.
In his opening statement, Tuten did not offer an extended defense for every count, but said witnesses, including Blakely, would be able to provide clear and logical explanations for each transaction.
He said Blakely’s business trips to Biloxi and Las Vegas cited by the prosecution were not crimes. Prosecutors pointed to the trips as instances where Blakely asked employees of the sheriff’s office to wire him money, either from the sheriff’s office accounts or from an employee’s personal account.
Tuten argued that the requests for the additional money were the result of errors in judgment about the costs of travel to the sites. He stated that Blakely does not fly and that with the cost of gasoline and accommodation the initial per diems paid to him for the travel costs were insufficient, so he had to get her kicked out. money.
One of the accusations is that Blakely asked a longtime employee of the sheriff’s office to wire him $ 1,000 from his bank account. The state says it was an abuse of office, soliciting something of value from a subordinate. But Tuten argued that the employee and Blakely were longtime friends and that had nothing to do with her role as an employee.
Tuten said there had been instances of campaign miscommunication and some records were damaged by a sewage spill at the home of a campaign treasurer, but said all accounts were balanced and that there was no effort on Blakely’s part to deceive anyone.
The prosecution also alleged that from April 2013 to June 2016, Blakely regularly borrowed money from inmates at Limestone County Jail which was kept in a safe. They claim that over time Blakely had a sheriff’s office worker overseeing the money to take the money from the safe and hand it over to him.
The prosecution said Blakely did not refund the money immediately, but would write checks to cover the amounts. The checks were held on hand, not deposited, prosecutors said, even though the employee made regular visits to the bank. The prosecution says that at one point there were 19 checks covering cash payments to Blakely and it was floating $ 29,050 for 271 days, before it was settled.
The last charge detailed by prosecutors is particularly complicated. This is a company that wanted to sell arms to Taiwan and detained labor.
For 18 months from January 2013, through no fault of his own, Blakely’s salary was overpaid by Limestone County. When he was discovered by a routine audit, he owed $ 27,000.
The prosecution said Blakely planned to sell a house that his parents owned and that he could use some of that money to pay off the $ 27,000 he overpaid. But the sale has stalled, prosecutors say, and Blakely has borrowed the money from another friend.
They say Blakely’s real estate agent was also part of a company that wanted to sell guns in Taiwan. The company, HIGO, believed it needed a lead-lined room to ensure communications security. But they couldn’t find workers to do the main job.
The prosecution said Blakely was increasingly worried about repayment of the $ 27,000 to his friend, but the sale of the house was taking time. Eventually, the prosecution says Blakely met a senior HIGO executive. The prosecution says Blakely got $ 50,000 from a HIGO official that he could use to pay off the $ 27,000.
Blakely then recruited three inmates, including a convicted murderer, prosecutors said, to complete the two-month main job project.
Tuten argued that although the sale of the house took a while, Blakely was refunding the money. Tuten said Blakely would testify and explain why he thought it made sense to return the money in a lump sum.
More than 40 witnesses are expected to be called in this case.
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