Sheriff took out $ 29,000 loan from prisoners’ cash, Alabama claims in corruption lawsuit


Forensic evidence showed that Sheriff Mike Blakely was at the casino when he called one of his employees and asked her to send him money from a safe containing cash belonging to inmates at the Limestone County Jail in northern Alabama.

Ramona Robinson spoke today at the sheriff’s corruption trial and announced on November 8, 2014 that she had transferred $ 500 of inmate money to the sheriff at the Palace Station Casino in Las Vegas.

Robinson, who was a Limestone County jail officer at the time, testified that it was just one of a series of routine requests from the sheriff for money from the safe. She stated that she did not know what Blakely had spent the money on.

“I didn’t ask and he didn’t say,” Robinson told jurors today at the Blakely corruption trial in downtown Athens.

Blakely, a Democrat, is serving his 10th term as elected sheriff of Limestone, a fast-growing county in the Huntsville metro area. He is charged with 11 crimes of theft and abuse of power, including taking advantage of his position for personal gain by obtaining interest-free loans from prisoners’ money vaults.

The lawsuit on Tuesday afternoon focused on safe loans. Between 2013 and 2016, the sheriff borrowed $ 29,050 from prisoners, according to the state prosecutor’s office.

Robinson testified that Blakely was on the road to attend a conference in Las Vegas when he asked her for a bank transfer in 2014. The following year, Blakely asked her to send another wire transfer – this time for $ 1,000 – to the same casino, she said. …

During interrogation by the public prosecutor, Robinson said under oath that she feared the sheriff might fire her if she did not do what he asked.

Robinson testified that every time she gave Blakely cash from the safe, she wrote the IOU on a piece of paper and put it in the safe.

In the end, Blakely gave Robinson 19 checks from his personal bank account to replace the inmates’ funds, according to Robinson’s testimony and financial statements presented to the jury. But Blakely usually asked Robinson to keep the checks — sometimes for several weeks — before taking them to the bank.

Louis Wilson, a special agent for the Anti-Corruption Unit at the Alabama Attorney General’s Office, testified that there were a total of 271 days during which Robinson kept Blakely’s checks to pay for the inmate’s safe.

Wilson testified that if these checks had been cashed on the day Blakely gave them to Robinson, his bank account would have been overdrass.

For example, Blakely once gave Robinson a check for $ 1,900 dated March 6, 2015, to replace the money he borrowed from the prisoner’s fund, according to court records. At the time, Blakely’s account balance was $ 1,400 – $ 500 less than needed to cover the check. But when Robinson cashed the check 10 days later, Blakely had enough money to cover it.

Wilson testified that Blakely stopped taking loans from the inmate’s safe and requested Robinson to keep checks in mid-2016, around the same time the sheriff deposited more than $ 900,000 in his personal bank account.

No one in court today said why Blakely received such a large payment or where it came from. But Earlier it was reported that Blakely received more than $ 250,000 in gambling winnings from across Tennessee in 2016, following an ethics disclosure he filed with the state.

“Is winning the lottery illegal?” Lawyer Nick Loch asked Wilson during cross-examination.

“No,” Wilson replied.

The defense also tried to question Robinson’s testimony.

Markus Helstowski, another Blakely lawyer, asked Robinson if Blakely could have requested wire transfers to Las Vegas to cover the costs of his conference trip, or if other money taken from the safe could be used for law enforcement purposes.

“I think it’s possible,” said Robinson.

Robinson also told the jury that she sometimes cashed checks for other sheriff’s office staff using the money in the inmate’s safe. But during interrogation by Kyle Beckman, the state prosecutor, she told the jury that she never held checks for anyone other than Sheriff Blakely.

Robinson left the sheriff’s office in September 2016 and now serves as a clerk for the Limestone County Commission. Beckman asked if her exit from the sheriff’s office had anything to do with transactions involving a cellmate’s safe.

“Yes and no,” said Robinson. “I just didn’t like it.”

Blakely is charged with six counts of theft from his campaign and county law enforcement fund, and five counts of using his position for personal gain.

Earlier Monday, Blakely Defense Team roasted a state witness who is also under investigation for violations in campaign financing.

The trial will resume Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. when the state is expected to call its 14th witness.

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