Junior College System scandal begins to unravel
By By Steve Flowers
The embezzlement, nepotism and thievery perpetrated within the Junior College System is beginning to unravel with federal indictments. This corruption was so pervasive that dozens of officials will eventually go before federal juries for judgment. The massive scandal will be remembered as one of the most brazen criminal misappropriations of state dollars in modern times.
A proper analogy would be to liken this saga to the mafia. The positive aspect of the scenario is that the kingpin of the scheme, former Chancellor Roy Johnson, has been nabbed and indicted and has pled guilty. It is analogous to toppling the Godfather.
Johnson is definitely the big fish in the corruption probe. Johnson agreed to plead guilty to fifteen counts of bribery, conspiracy, witness tampering and obstruction in a scheme involving more than $18 million. He admits to arranging bogus jobs for his adult children and taking kickbacks from contractors who did business with the two-year college system. He also admitted to billing the state for personal houses he had contractors build for him.
Some of the most notorious examples of Johnson’s greed and corruption include admissions that he had a deal with former Alabama Fire College Director, William Langston, to pay Johnson’s son more than $164,000 and Johnson’s daughter $191,000 for doing no work. Johnson admitted that they had never met his daughter or son, much less shown up for work. Johnson also admitted that his longtime friend, Jimmie Clements, was given $1.7 million in consulting contracts. In return, Clements paid Johnson $20,000 a year in cash from 2000 to 2006.
Several contractors have been indicted and more will be for schemes Johnson arranged. One with a Tuscaloosa contractor where Johnson steered $4.4 million in construction contracts to the company and then in return Johnson received $96,000 for himself and his family.
Johnson will certainly spend at least twelve years in prison and has agreed to forfeit $18.2 million, including $1 million in benefits for him and his family. The chief prosecutor admits that Johnson will not be able to repay the full amount stolen. He will have to surrender his Opelika home that was built with money pilfered from the state.
Johnson’s plea agreement with federal prosecutors provides that his children and their spouses will not be prosecuted. However, the caveat for prosecutors is that Johnson has cut a deal to come clean and implicate any legislators or state school board members who benefited from the corruption pyramid gravy train.
The state school board members implicated have denied any wrongdoing. Sandra Ray, a Tuscaloosa board member, has two children and a former son-in-law who were hired by Shelton State Community College. Ella Bell of Montgomery’s niece was hired in the two-year systems communication office leapfrogging many other applicants. Johnson’s plea agreement accuses Huntsville board member, Mary Jane Caylor, of arranging for a college vendor to send a bogus bill to the system and use some of the money to give her $7,500 for her Huntsville mayoral race in 2004.
The tentacles of the probe are expected to reach into the halls of the Alabama Legislature because Johnson has agreed to cooperate in naming legislators who were hired for doing little or no work. Johnson himself served four terms in the Alabama House of Representatives, rising to Speaker Pro Tem during his tenure. He became President of Southern Union State College in Opelika in 1992 and was named Chancellor in 2002. Approximately twelve or more members of the Alabama Legislature have received jobs within the two-year system after they were elected. One lawmaker, Rep. Sue Schmitz, has already been indicted in the probe. She was indicted on nine counts of fraud for getting paid by a two-year college for doing virtually no work.
Some of the schemes uncovered are so blatant that they are almost comical. For example the President of Bishop State in Mobile, who is also a legislator, put a disabled grandmother on a basketball scholarship. A Walker County legislator, who had a full time law practice, was on the payroll of not only one but two different junior colleges at $48,000 per school.
This bold Junior College Corruption scandal will truly be one for the history books and it is still evolving and unfolding.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 70 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.