A month out from his criminal trial, a man accused of impersonating a constable and issuing homemade citations to motorists is threatening the city of Creola with litigation over an alleged contract officials may have failed to properly bid out.Last July, Doug Roberts was arrested for allegedly issuing tickets to motorists parked in handicapped spaces.
Authorities said, despite entering the Precinct 66 constable race in Mobile County, Roberts wasn’t a peace officer while he was issuing those citations. He was also in possession of a constable’s uniform and drove a Chevrolet Tahoe equipped with radios, weapons, sirens and lights.
With a trial in August, Roberts faces dozens of charges of impersonating a peace officer, possession of a forged instrument and violating Alabama’s “blue light law.” He was released on a $600,000 bond and required to wear an ankle monitor.
During that time, though, Roberts made a handful of changes to Accelerated Technology Services Group LLC — a company he founded with the same post office address listed on the tickets that led to his arrest.
In January, Roberts filed paperwork with the Alabama Secretary of State’s office making Chase Nelson a registered agent of the business. Then, in February, he submitted an application for a trademark on the name Cytranet — a “telephone and wireless broadband communication service” — on behalf of the same company.
Nelson is listed as the director of Cytranet, and in March he attended a Creola City Council meeting to pitch the company’s services as officials were entertaining the idea of upgrading the city’s phone and internet systems.
Ginger Poynter is one of the attorneys representing Roberts in his upcoming criminal trial, and though she doesn’t represent Cytranet, she spoke to Lagniappe on Nelson’s behalf. Nelson also managed Poynter’s 2014 campaign for district judge in Baldwin County.
According to Poynter, officials in Creola unanimously supported Nelson’s proposal to install a new phone system and port the city’s existing telephone numbers to new carriers at a cost of $29,336 over a 36-month period.
“Mayor [Bill] Criswell signed the contract, and the city clerk provided a list of phone numbers to port, and Cytranet began the transfer process,” Poynter wrote via email. “Then, after the numbers already received firm port dates registered by both carriers, the city claimed that it failed to solicit the required number of bids and needed to place the project ‘on hold.’”
Criswell and Councilwoman Lee Anne Greene redirected questions about Cytranet to the city’s attorney, who declined to comment citing a confidentiality agreement. Alabama law requires that all contracts for labor, services, work or for the purchase or lease of materials exceeding $15,000 be awarded through a sealed, competitive bidding to the lowest responsible bidder.”
The city did produce a copy of a notice of claim Accelerated Technology Services Group LLC filed with the city clerk in May — a standard procedure when suing a public entity.
While Cytranet has not taken any legal action against the city yet, parties on both sides seem to agree that the work it started and wasn’t able to complete likely caused phone lines at Creola City Hall and the Creola Police Department to go offline for “around a week and a half” in May.
Poynter said Cytranet sent a certified letter advising the city that the process couldn’t be “changed or ceased” without “a serious disruption in service.” An engineer — presumably Roberts — allegedly told officials something similar after being turned away from city hall.
That was on May 1, and by May 10, residents were told the phone lines “were hit by lightning during [a] storm and [were] being worked on” in a post on the city of Creola Facebook page. It gave alternate numbers for the police department and city hall, but made no mention of Cytranet or the system upgrade that had been put “on hold.”Creola officials didn’t respond to questions about the phone lines that “were hit by lightning,” but it is worth noting that a lightning strike did cause similar problems in 2015 and recent flood damage actually forced city hall to be moved to a new location at 9615 Old Hwy 43.
While Roberts was listed as the only incorporating agent Cytranet’s parent company just months ago, Poynter claims “he is no longer an agent of the company” and “works as an engineer.” Yet, she said Creola cited Roberts’ legal trouble as a reason for ending its business with Cytranet.
“The city then claimed that because one of Cytranet’s employees had been arrested last year, that this was the reason for the cancellation of the contract,” Poynter wrote. “The city left Cytranet holding the bag for the lost contract revenue, a new phone system and stuck in an interconnect agreement with another carrier.”
However, a source with knowledge of the agreement and telecommunications networks said the interruption of services could have been avoided and went as far as to suggest the city’s phone numbers could have been “held hostage” until they could be ported back to the existing system. While the source of those claims asked to remain anonymous, Cytranet expressly denied them.
Poynter did acknowledge Creola’s unsuccessful attempts to “stop the transfer process” through its current carrier, but said Cytranet did nothing to hinder those efforts and “allowed” the city to port its phone numbers back to another company “despite suffering these losses.”
No matter what happens in Creola, Roberts’ criminal trial is moving forward.
While prosecutors have called Roberts “a clear danger to the public,” his attorneys have called him “a modern-day Robin Hood,” — helping shorthanded authorities, even if he was misguided about Alabama’s laws governing constables.
“He was deputized by a constable that was duly elected. He was the only person to run, so he was going to be on the ballot and there was no Democratic challenger,” Poynter told Lagniappe. “A lot of constables deputize, even though the statute doesn’t allow for it.”
As Poynter alluded, Roberts’ primary defense has been that he believed he was serving as a deputy constable while he was issuing traffic citations because he’d been previously deputized by Constable Dale Dorsey. Dorsey has corroborated that claim in his own testimony.
However, throwing out Roberts’ motions for dismissal in March, Circuit Judge Michael Youngpeter ruled that a jury should decide what the former constable candidate knew about the law and when.