When Sheriff Mike Blakely asked one of his officers to transfer cash to him, he was in a casino in Mississippi, as testimony in court showed today. According to the state attorney’s office, he was supposed to attend the conference in Alabama.
“I transferred $ 1,000 to him because I wanted to,” Debbie Davis, the Limestone County Sheriff’s chief clerk, told a jury at a corruption trial. “It was my personal money.”
Blakely, a 10-year-old Limestone County sheriff, is charged with 11 counts of theft and abuse of power. In one of the charges brought by the state of Alabama, Blakely is accused of using his position for personal gain by requesting a wire transfer from Davis, who worked for him.
Davis testified that she had been friends with Blakely for decades – long before she took a job at the sheriff’s office about 18 years ago.
“Mrs. Davis, is it fair to say you don’t want the sheriff to be convicted?” Asked Clark Morris, deputy attorney general.
“Of course,” Davis replied.
Alabama’s attorney’s office called in Davis to testify on Wednesday as the state focused on loans, travel and allegations that Blakely was gambling while he was due to attend work conferences.
The state claims that Blakely violated Alabama’s Ethics Act for Elected Officials when he asked Davis to send him money – because she depended on Blakely for her work.
“If the sheriff decided to fire you, he could, right?” Morris asked.
“Yes, he could,” Davis replied.
When asked by Robert Tyuten, Blakely’s chief defense attorney, Davis testified that the sheriff never threatened or coerced her and that she never believed her job was in danger.
Davis was working in her office in the sheriff’s department when Blakely called her on the afternoon of August 17, 2016, according to testimony and phone tapes given to the jury. He was supposed to attend a conference – a government-funded trip – on the Alabama coast, but instead, according to the state attorney’s office, he was at a casino in Biloxi.
Prosecutors say Blakely did not register for the conference and spent just one day playing golf and visiting an exhibit with merchants before traveling to a Mississippi casino to stay with two Limestone County commissioners.
Blakely is also charged with one count of using his position for personal gain and a theft charge in connection with a trip to Gulf Shores. State prosecutors say he stole $ 218.36 from the county law enforcement fund, receiving over-compensation for travel expenses.
But Davis testified that in the end all the payments the sheriff received from the fund matched the expenses and per diem Blakely was owed. The tapes presented to the jury corroborated Davis’ testimony.
Blakely received two checks totaling $ 1,718.36 from the law enforcement fund for the trip. Records show that the apartment for Blakely and two employees cost $ 1,418.36, and Blakely had to pay $ 300 per diem.
Davis was one of four witnesses called by the state on Wednesday.
Lt. Johnny Morrell and Jeff Kilpatrick, both investigators in the sheriff’s office, told the jury that they attended a training conference with the sheriff at a casino and hotel in Las Vegas in 2014. The late sheriff’s wife and family friend also went on the trip.
Morrell specializes in forensic research on electronic devices such as mobile phones and computers. He told the jury that the training included courses in extracting evidence from mobile phones and other devices. He told the jury that during training, Blakely sat a couple of seats away from him.
But Kilpatrick showed that neither he nor Blakely brought computers to the conference. He told the jury that the training was too difficult for his knowledge and that without a computer he could not adequately participate.
“After the first day I finished,” he testified.
He said that one day he and the sheriff went for a drive in downtown Las Vegas instead of training.
Both Kilpatrick and Morrell testified that during the trip they lent money to the sheriff.
“I would do it any day of the week,” Morrell told the jury.
When cross-examined by the defense, both investigators testified that they never saw Blakely do anything illegal during the trip.
Nick Langenfield, vice president of the company that owns the Palace Station casino in Las Vegas, testified that the Blakely casino card was used to play during certain hours when the sheriff was due to attend the conference.
Casino records show that Blakely’s card was used between 10:00 and 14:00 on Monday 8 December 2014.
Cross-examined by attorney Markus Helstowski, Langenfield said that someone else may have been playing with Blakely’s card.
“You can’t tell the jury who put the card in this slot, can you?” Helstovsky asked.
“Right,” Langenfield replied.
When redirected by the state, Langenfield showed that people have an incentive to use their own casino cards because the more they play, the more they earn.
“It’s like Chuck E. Cheese for adults,” he told the jury.
Wednesday was the third day of the Blakely testimony. So far, the State Attorney’s Office has called 17 witnesses. The trial will resume on Thursday at 9 am.