White Hall, AL – A small-town mayor from Lowndes County did not divert public funds to his own use, his lawyer said Friday while accusing Attorney General Troy King of political grandstanding in the case.
White Hall Mayor John Jackson, 59, was arrested Thursday on theft and ethics charges for allegedly stealing $46,309 from the city when it purchased 40 acres of land for $320,000 in 1999 for a bingo operation that provides money to charities.
King's office issued a statement about the charges, stating that Jackson was accused of intentionally using his public office "for the personal gain of himself, a family member, or a business with which he is associated."
But Julian McPhillips, who is representing Jackson, produced copies of personal checks Jackson used for a down payment on the land and an affidavit signed by Janie Spivey, who said Jackson paid her about $45,000 for the property out of his personal account.
The city later got a loan to pay for the land, McPhillips said, and the $46,309 was the amount reimbursed to the mayor for providing his personal money for the down payment.
"Really it's gross hypocrisy," McPhillips said at a news conference. "If anybody is using his office for personal gain, it is Troy King. He ought to hold a mirror up to himself - he's using his office for great personal gain."
Speaking alongside McPhillips, attorney Collins Pettaway Jr. said King had a vendetta against White Hall and pointed to the prosecutor's efforts to shut down the electronic bingo operation on grounds it was unconstitutional.
King said the claims by Jackson's lawyers were "outlandish."
"There is no persecution of the people White Hall," he said.
King declined comment on claims the money was reimbursement.
"If Mr. McPhillips chooses to try his case in the press, that's fine. I'll try mine before a jury," King said. "Julian McPhillips has spent his career with smoke and mirrors and sleight of hand to try to divert (attention). That's what criminal defense lawyers do."
McPhillips said King is young and politically ambitious, and wants to attack the White Hall bingo operation to endear himself to owners of large gambling operations.
"It's my opinion that this attorney general ... is on the political make," he said.
Jackson faces a maximum penalty of two to 20 years imprisonment and fines of up to $10,000 for each count if convicted. Any felony conviction also would result in his automatic removal from office.
King said the investigation has been going on for "some time," but would not say how his office learned of the alleged theft. He said the warrants were taken out because the statute of limitations would have run out before a grand jury could hear the case.