Mobile County License Commissioner Kim Hastie was indicted on 16 counts of public corruption today, including conspiracy, extortion and wire fraud — charges including allegations she forced a contractor to purchase TVs and electronic notebooks as gifts for her office Christmas party.
Deputy License Commissioner Ramona Yeager was indicted on nine counts of the indictment as well.
The pair is accused of having devised a fraud scheme to “obtain money and property by means of false and fraudulent pretenses, representations and promises,” violations alleged to have taken place between February and July of 2014. The felony charges come with sentencing guidelines of up to 85 years in jail and $1.25 million in fines for Hastie and 60 years and $750,000 in fines for Yeager.
The indictment includes 16 allegations related to a conspiracy to deceive the Mobile County Commission and the citizens of Mobile County through falsifying invoices and misappropriating funds to political lobbying and consulting services and personal benefits. Much of the alleged conspiracy centered on Hastie’s efforts to combine the offices of the License Commission and the Mobile County Revenue Commission with her at the helm of both.
“In or about July 2012, Hastie and Yeager sought to retain services from a political consulting firm and to conceal the firm’s $10,500 retainer fee from the County Commission,” the indictment reads. “Hastie instructed the consulting firm to seek payment of the fee from (Victor) Crawford even though Crawford had neither benefitted from nor sought out the firms services, nor even participated in any manner in the services.”
Crawford is a programmer who formerly worked for the county, and is currently the owner and operator of APL Software Inc. also known as Bienville Rock Software. Chad Tucker, owner of the Strateco PR firm, has handled certain public relations work for Hastie’s office related to the commissioner’s push to merge the offices of Mobile County’s license and revenue commissioners.
It’s alleged Hastie instructed Crawford to falsify his APL Software Engineering invoice to include Strateco invoices.
Tucker told Lagniappe earlier this year that his company was in fact paid through APL Software — a fee of around $2,500 monthly. Tucker says he is no longer working for Hastie or her office.
Records show APL Software charged the county $292,958 between November 2013 and June 2014 — the largest of four “consultant expenditures” charged by the License Commission during that time period.
The indictment says Hastie instructed Yeager to falsify Crawford’s invoices for program services to include $10,500 for “web and social media expenses.” According to the document, Crawford then complied with the instructions because “he feared that Hastie would retaliate against him if he did not comply.”
Unaware of the situation, the commissioners approved the expenses to Crawford’s company using county funds.
“During her tenure as License Commissioner, Hastie cultivated a work environment of intimidation at the office and repeatedly threatened to terminate Crawford’s employment as well as the employment of several License Commission employees,” the indictment reads.
One such instance cited in the indictment is the $1,800 fee Crawford paid to the Mobile County Republican Party to qualify Hastie to run for revenue commissioner. Lagniappe has previous reported that Bienville Rock Software, Inc. did indeed make a $1,800 contribution to Hastie’s campaign for revenue commissioner on Feb. 5, 2014 — the only contribution listed for Hastie during the reporting period.
The indictment also says Hastie, unbeknownst to the county commission, used unauthorized funds to pay for lobbying efforts to draft legislation related to the merger of the two offices.
Jonathan Gray with Strategy Public Relations has previously confirmed to Lagniappe that he was paid around $10,000 to write the legislation that would allow the officers of revenue and license commissioners to merge. Both he and Hastie initially claimed the services weren’t compensated, and Gray has since paid those funds back to the license commission.
According to the indictment, Hastie arranged to pay Strategy with money from a segregated account of the License Commission, which were collected from the $5 charge added to vehicle registration fees in 2013. She, Yeager and the license commission’s comptroller have signature authority over the segregated account.
“Hastie was aware of Act 2013-292 and knowingly violated its provisions by instructing the comptroller to withdraw and spend money from the account to pay the lobbying firm,” the indictment reads.
The indictment also claims Hastie violated Hobbs Act by extorting Crawford to purchase $2,316 worth of TVs, iPads and other tablets — items that were later given away at a License Commission Christmas party. The fee Crawford paid the Republican party is also included in those six counts of extortion.
“Hastie used her position of public office for personal benefit,” the document reads. “She cultivated a culture of intimidation within the License Commission, and repeatedly threatened to seek to terminate Crawford’s employment.”
The final claim in the indictment alleges Hastie “knowingly” lied to FBI Agent Ketrick Kelley when questioned about Crawford’s involvement with the commission. It also states that the false statement was made at License Commission’s offices located at 3925 Michael Blvd.
Lagniappe published an article about an FBI raid on that building over the summer, after several sources both within the License Commission and county government reported probe into the commission on July 16.
Hastie and Yeager face one count of conspiracy, five counts of wire fraud and three counts of mail fraud. Hastie alone faces six counts of Hobbs Act Extortion violations and one county of making false statements to a federal agent.
Hastie’s attorney, Neil Hanley, has said Hastie will hold a press conference at his office today at 2:30 p.m.
Links to all of Lagniappe’s previous reporting on the investigation are provided below.
July 23, 2014: License Commission said to be target of FBI subpoenas
July 9, 2014: License Commissioner discusses efforts to merge offices
June 17, 2014: Dispute over Licence Commissioner’s newsletter ‘resolved’