Former State Rep. Oliver Robinson sentenced to 33 months in prison

Oliver Robinson sentenced to 33 months in prison

UPDATE 11/27/18 — 

Attorney Michael Whisonant reports Oliver Robinson turned himself into the U.S. Marshals office Tuesday, November 27. He turned himself in prior to his 2 p.m. deadline and will be held there until he is sent to the proper corrections facility. 

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — A federal judge sentenced a former Alabama legislator to just under three years in prison for accepting bribes from a Birmingham lawyer and an Alabama coal company executive to advocate their employers’ opposition to EPA actions in north Birmingham.

Today, U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town, FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp Jr. and Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation, Special agent in Charge Thomas J. Holloman announced the plea.

U.S. District Judge Abdul K. Kallon sentenced  former state representative Oliver L. Robinson, 58, of Birmingham to 33 months in prison for conspiracy, bribery, honest services wire fraud and tax evasion. Robinson pleaded guilty to the charges late in 2017. 

In addition, Judge Kallon also ordered Robinson to pay $169,151 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and to forfeit $390,783 as proceeds of illegal activity. Robinson will be on supervised release for three years following completion of his prison term, according to a release from the Northern District of Alabama.

In Robinson’s opening statement in the court, he stated, “Let me begin by apologizing to the court and to the government for causing this hearing today. Let me also apologize to my family, friends, church members, UAB family…and more importantly, the residents of North Birmingham.”

The government filed a motion asking the judge for a lower sentencing recommendation of 51 to 63 months in prison because of Robinson’s substantial assistance, including trial testimony, in the government’s prosecution of his co-defendants. 

Prosecutors recommended the 33-month sentence, instead.

In July, a federal jury convicted former Balch & Bingham partner Joel Gilbert and Drummond Company executive David Roberson in the bribery scheme. They are scheduled for sentencing Oct. 23.

RELATED: Alabama attorney, company official convicted in bribery case

“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,” U.S. Attorney Town said. “This former state legislator will never again hold elected office and he will spend the next three years of his life in federal prison.”

Robinson represented Alabama’s House District 58 from 1998 until he resigned Nov. 30, 2016. He sold his influence as a state legislator to Gilbert and Roberson to aid Balch & Bingham and its client, Drummond, in opposing the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) efforts to prioritize and expand a Superfund site near Robinson’s legislative district, Town states.

The EPA has designated an area of north Birmingham as the 35th Avenue Superfund Site after finding elevated levels of arsenic, lead and benzo(a)pyrene during soil samples. In September 2013, EPA notified five companies, including Drummond-owned ABC Coke, that they could potentially be responsible for the pollution. Such a finding could have cost the company tens of millions of dollars in cleanup costs and fines.

During the trial for Gilbert and Roberson, evidence provided the two were intent on protecting ABC Coke and Drummond from the huge possibility costs associated with being held responsible for pollution at the site. Gibert and Roberson began working t o prevent the site’s placement on EPA’s National Priorities List or its expansion into Tarrant or Inglenook. Their plan included advising public officials and residents of north Birmingham to oppose EPA’s actions. 

“Elected government officials should be held to a higher ethical standard and it was obvious that Robinson chose greed over doing the honest thing,” Holloman said. “IRS-CI will continue to put resources on these public corruption investigations in an effort to clean up dirty politics.”

Gilbert and Roberson bribed Robinson with a $375,000 contract paid to him through his non-profit Oliver Robinson Foundation over two yeas. In return, Robinson made a variety of official acts to support their agenda for Balch & Bingham, according to the government’s sentencing memorandum.

RELATED: Mayor asks EPA to place North Birmingham Superfund Site on National Priorities List

Those acts included advocating the Balch & Drummond position in a meeting with the EPA, using talking points drafted by Gilbert and secretly recording the meeting. Robinson also mae comments to the Alabama Environmental Management Commission, which oversees the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), urging the commission and the ADEM director to help narrow the list of parties potentially responsible for the Superfund site cleanup. Robinson also voted in the Alabama House of Representatives Rules Committee on a resolution, drafted by Gilbert, opposing the EPA’s efforts in north Birmingham. Robinson always concealed his financial relationship with Balch and Drummond, as required in his contract with Gilbert and Roberson. 

After Robinson was sentenced, he briefly spoke to the press. 

“Im relieved and I’m thankful to God.”

CBS 42 news reporter Robert Sherman covered the sentencing in court Thursday afternoon. Follow his tweets for in-court statements.

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This story was corrected Oct. 10, 2010 to state Joel Gilbert is a former Balch & Bingham employee. It originally stated he was currently employed. 

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