County Attorney Jay Ross gave a little insight today into the ongoing investigation into claims the Mobile County License Commission was involved in a massive leak of personal information that benefitted the 2013 campaign of Mayor Sandy Stimpson.
Mobile residents Arnita Diamond and LeBarron Yates filed the claim on Aug. 21, which alleged that more 30,000 Mobile residents had their personal information pulled from the database of registered motor vehicles by an employee of the license commission.
The claim goes on to allege email addresses were taken and used to send an email endorsing Stimpson in the weeks before the 2013 election that ultimately resulted in the defeat of incumbent Mayor Sam Jones.
Ross said the county, as it does with all claims, is continuing to investigate the claim through Third Party Administrator (TPA) ASG Adjusters — a requirement of the county’s excess insurance carrier.
“We’ve notified our insurance carriers and are awaiting a response,” Ross said. “Generally, we’re insured up to $300,000, but in order to get better rates and management of claim our excess carrier requires a TPA.”
Ross said the county isn’t working with the City of Mobile, but did say he’s been in contact with attorney Jeff Hartley, who according to Ross, has been hired to represent the “campaign entity.”
When asked about a separate alleged FBI investigation into the License Commission, Ross said he wouldn’t know.
However, he was willing to discuss a recent “debate” within the county’s administration about whether license issuance fees had been inappropriately used by License Commissioner Kim Hastie to pay for lobbying efforts last year.
“Jonathan Gray (of Strategy Public Relations) did some work for the license commissioner and had a contract with (Hastie). It was paid out of a fund that likely wasn’t authorized for that type of expense,” Ross said. “The License Commissioner usually comes through the county and gets approval of those contracts, but this particular one did not make that trajectory.”
According to Ross, the funds came form the issuance fee fund that “the license commissioner had passed” through State Legislature in May of 2013. HB117, as it was known, allowed an additional fee of up to $5 per license to “provide for the upgrading and maintaining of records, equipment, and technology within the office of the license commissioner.”
“There was then a resolution by the County Commission that reduced it to $1.25 per license with an annual accounting to the county on the distribution of those funds,” Ross said. “Those funds are to be used for specific purposes as set forth in that state act.”
He also confirmed the funds came directly from the License Commission and not through a third-party vendor, which was the case with Chad Tucker of Strateco, who Lagniappe confirmed received monthly payments for work in Hastie’s office through APL Software.
Owned and operated by Victor Crawford, APL Software was at the time and is currently contracted to perform programming and software maintenance duties for the License Commission.
As for the money Gray received, Ross said he has since chosen to pay back approximately $10,000 to Hastie’s office.
Ross didn’t confirm what those expenses were for, but Hastie told Lagniappe in May her office had paid Gray around $10,000 over a four-year period. She said those charges were for marketing concepts, the production of brochures and writing the draft of a bill she presented to the state legislature that attempted to consolidate her office with that of the Mobile County Revenue Commissioner.
“I’m in the business of helping my clients, and while I don’t pick what accounts we get paid from or how we get paid, clearly the payment came under question from the media about whether or not the account we were paid from was appropriate,” Gray said in a prepared statement. “I figured the best thing to do was just voluntarily return the payment with a note saying if you figure out an appropriate place to pay us from that would be appreciated, and if not, we understand.”
Gray said he believes in Hastie’s plan to consolidate the offices, which was originally reported to save Mobile County taxpayer’s around $2 million a year, if approved.
“I get paid well for what I do and I do prefer to get paid for my work, but if this is my donation to help a good cause then I’m good with that too,” Gray said. “I do want to be clear however that no one asked me, approached me or even suggested anything to me about returning this. It just felt like the right thing to do to help her.”