Sheriff loaned $ 29,000 from inmate money, Alabama claims in corruption lawsuit

Sheriff Mike Blakely was in a casino when he called one of his employees and asked him to send him money from a safe belonging to inmates at Limestone County Jail in the northern Alabama, testimony in court revealed.

Ramona Robinson testified today at the Sheriff’s bribery trial and said on November 8, 2014, that she wired $ 500 of the inmate’s money to the sheriff at the Palace Station Casino in Las Vegas.

Robinson, who was the Limestone County Jail clerk at the time, said it was just a series of routine requests from the sheriff asking him to give him money from the safe- strong. She testified that she doesn’t know what Blakely spent the money on.

“I didn’t ask, and he didn’t say anything,” Robinson told the jury today during Blakely’s corruption trial in downtown Athens.

Blakely, a Democrat, is serving his 10th term as sheriff-elect of Limestone, a rapidly growing county in the Huntsville metro area. He is charged with 11 crimes of theft and abuse of power, including using his position for personal gain by obtaining interest-free loans from the inmate’s money vault.

Tuesday afternoon’s trial focused on the loans from this safe. Between 2013 and 2016, the sheriff borrowed $ 29,050 from the inmate’s money, state prosecutors said.

Robinson testified that Blakely was traveling to attend a conference in Las Vegas when he asked her for the wire transfer in 2014. The following year, Blakely had him send another wire transfer – this one worth of $ 1,000 – at the same casino, she said. .

When questioned by a state attorney, Robinson said under oath that she feared the sheriff would fire her if she did not do as he asked.

Robinson testified that whenever she gave Blakely money in the safe, she scribbled an IOU on a sticky note and put it in the safe.

Blakely eventually gave Robinson 19 checks from his personal bank account to replace the inmate’s funds, according to Robinson’s testimony and financial records presented to the jury. But Blakely regularly asked Robinson to keep the checks – sometimes for weeks – before bringing them to the bank.

Louie Wilson, a special agent in the public corruption unit of the Alabama attorney general’s office, said that in total there were 271 days that Robinson was holding Blakely’s checks to reimburse the safe deposit box of the detained.

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

For example, Blakely once gave Robinson a check for $ 1,900, dated March 6, 2015, to replace the money he had borrowed from the inmate fund, according to court records. At that 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’s account had enough money to cover it.

Wilson said Blakely stopped getting loans from the inmate safe and asked Robinson to keep checks in mid-2016, around the same time the sheriff was depositing more than $ 900,000 into his. personal bank account.

No one told the court today why Blakely got the big payment or where it came from. But as previously reported, Blakely in 2016 received more than $ 250,000 in gambling winnings across the Tennessee state border, according to ethical disclosures he filed with the state.

“Is it illegal to win the lottery? Defense attorney Nick Lough asked Wilson during cross-examination.

“No,” Wilson replied.

The defense also tried to cast doubt on Robinson’s testimony.

Marcus Helstowski, another of Blakely’s defense attorneys, asked Robinson if Blakely may have requested wire transfers in Las Vegas to cover expenses related to his conference trip, or if other funds were taken out of the vault. -fort could have been used for repressive purposes.

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

Robinson also told the jury that she would sometimes cash checks for other sheriff’s office workers using money from the inmate’s safe. But when questioned by Kyle Beckman, a district attorney, she told the jury that she had never held checks for anyone other than Sheriff Blakely.

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

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

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

Earlier Monday, Blakely’s defense team grilled a state witness who is also under investigation for campaign finance violations.

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

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