Public records indicate a long-time technology contractor, APL Software Inc., has political, personal and financial ties to Mobile politicians and other government officials.
Some of those ties have included individuals in positions to affect the company’s contracts being flown on owner Victor T. Crawford’s personal airplane.
According to financial records provided by Mobile County, APL Software began working with Mobile County in 1998, but archived news reports suggest Crawford was working for the county as an individual since the late 1980s.
Crawford and his company worked for the county’s administration writing and maintaining payroll software and performing network design and maintenance, according to both published newspapers articles and recollections of current county employees who wished to remain anonymous.
The company has also worked for the Mobile County Probate Court, the county’s Engineering Department and the Mobile County License Commission, which continues to maintain contracts with APL Software today. Some of those contracts were based on hourly rates previously reported to have ranged anywhere from $95 to $150 per hour, according to a Press-Register article.
According to county records supplied to Lagniappe, APL Software has been paid $6,312,462 since 1999. Of that, $4.6 million came out of the county’s general fund and an additional $1.6 million came from a separate gasoline tax fund.
Between 1998 and 2003, several charges from Crawford were described only as the name of a city on county records. A public information officer with the county confirmed those to be travel expenses, which added up to more than $140,000.
According to documents provided by the county, Crawford charged travel expenses for trips to Miami, Sacramento, San Francisco, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., New York, Charlotte, Tampa, Atlanta, Washington D.C., Dallas, Phoenix, Orlando, Cambridge, Mass., Boca Raton, Fla., Houston, Santa Clara, Calif., Downer Grove, Ill., San Diego, Palo Alta, Milpitas, Calif., Denver, Jefferson, Col., Newport Beach, Calif. and Ohio.
Trips to several cities were also listed multiple times as a travel expense.
In 1999, Crawford made local headlines when former Treasurer Vivian Beckerle called him “sloppy in his job and overpaid” while addressing the county commission. At the time, Commissioners Sam Jones, Gary Tanner and Freeman Jockisch vehemently defended Crawford’s performance.
Ultimately, with new people in office, the commission voted to end its contract with APL Software in 2007. A month later, the company was rehired on a month-to-month basis, only to have its contact terminated again in 2008.
According to a Press-Register article from 2008, former Commissioner Stephen Nodine made several public complaints about APL Software, its rate of compensation and information he claimed was being withheld from the county.
Crawford had worked with the license commission since 1992 maintaining its database and helping keep up with changes required by the state legislature and other state offices. When the county terminated Crawford’s contract, former License Commissioner Carol Norris argued in vain to retain his services.
Payment records for the county show APL Software began performing work for the license commission again in December 2010, under current License Commissioner Kim Hastie.
Though monthly invoices vary, no payment less than $25,000 has been made to APL Software since that time. To date, those charges have added up to around $1,667,643.
Hastie said Crawford has written software specific to her department’s tag system and said that typically only Crawford himself and a single part-time employee work in her office.
A request was made to the county late last week for a detailed invoice of the monthly charges presented the license commission, but the request had not been granted by deadline.
Crawford himself has declined interviews for previous stories, and has been unreachable for comment for this story as well. Attempts to visit his registered place of business on Oak Knoll Drive were also unsuccessful.
Last month, Chad Tucker, president of Strateco, admitted his company was paid through APL Software for public relations and publishing work performed for Hastie’s office.
At the same time Lagniappe detailed those findings, the Mobile County License Commission and several offices within the county became the subject of an FBI subpoena, according to several people working inside the county and license commission. However, neither county officials nor federal agents would comment as to what the FBI was looking for.
It is known that Crawford has documented political ties to both Hastie and former Mayor Sam Jones.
Crawford’s company, which also uses the name Bienville Rock Software, Inc., made a $1,800 contribution to Hastie’s campaign for revenue commissioner — the only contribution listed for Hastie in the 2014 campaign. The same day, Hastie paid her $1,776 dues to the Mobile County Republican Executive Committee.
According to Fair Campaign Practice filings, Crawford also made small contributions ($250) to Jones’ campaign for county commission in 1996 and his mayoral campaign in 2004. Jones was elected to the Mobile County Commission in 1988, the same year Crawford is reported to have began working for the county.
In addition to making contributions, Crawford also received a $1,097 payment from Jones’ campaign funds in 1999 and two additional $1,097 payments in 2000.
While looking into his records, Lagniappe also discovered Crawford is a registered pilot with the FAA and is the owner of a 1981 Cessna T210N. Public tracking on Crawford’s plane has been disabled, so official records of its flights couldn’t be obtained.
However, after speaking with several local politicians, two county officials admitted to flying with Crawford at times when their offices were contracting his services.
“I have ridden with him (in his plane) before to Montgomery,” Hastie said, though she didn’t give a specific date or a reason for the trip. Attempts to follow up with Hastie about her trip with Crawford were unsuccessful.
County Engineer Joe Ruffer said he had also flown with Crawford, whom he called a personal friend, on several occasions. The flights included trips to Montgomery, Dauphin Island and recently to Guntersville for a meeting of the Alabama Affordable Homeowners Insurance Commission, on which Ruffer says he serves.
“He took me up there, I introduced him to the members and he observed the commission and hearing process,” Ruffer said. “On some of those earlier trips, he had contacts with the county, but the trip to Guntersville was pretty recent. I’d have to go back and pull all that stuff.”
Ruffer said Crawford had worked with his department for several years, but to his knowledge, APL Software only works with the License Commission currently.
“I’ve known Victor for about 25 years,” he said. “I met him in Commissioner Jones’ office one day. It was around 1988 or somewhere in there.”
Multiple calls about Crawford’s plane made to Jones and the office of state Sen. Vivian Figures were not returned. Crawford’s father, Vernon, was law partners with Figure’s deceased husband, state Sen. Michael Figures, according to the Alabama State Bar website. Several county and state officials said they had never flown onboard Crawford’s plane, including Commissioners Merceria Ludgood, Connie Hudson, Jerry Carl and former commissioner Mike Dean.
“I didn’t even know he had a plane,” Dean said. “Our county attorney advised me that we should never let any contractor take us anywhere.”
Hugh Evans III, general counsel for the Alabama Ethics Commission, said in general terms ethics laws prevent government officials accepting gifts or preferential treatment from public contractors.
According to Evans, the ethical line for trips on private planes depends on the nature and purpose of the flight.
“If they’re flying them to a meeting they need to be at as an official, that’s one thing, but if it’s a pleasure trip, that’s a problem,” Evans said. “It all depends on the circumstances.”
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