In his second full day on the stand, defense attorneys for Mobile County License Commissioner Kim Hastie continued their attempt to discredit the prosecution’s key witness — computer contractor Victor Crawford.
In a rigorous series of questions Thursday, attorneys Neil Hanley and Dennis Knizley questioned Crawford’s business finances, his integrity in the courtroom and his motivation for approaching the FBI last April.
On Wednesday, Hastie’s defense accused Crawford of regularly ‘overbilling’ Mobile County, a practice that included charging taxpayers an hourly rate for his employees, paying them less and pocketing the difference.
It was also revealed he’d been ordered to pay back more than $82,000 to the county in 2007 for overcharging the public works department, which is supervised by Joe Ruffer, someone Crawford called a long-time friend and mentor. Not long after the repayment, Crawford’s contract with the county was terminated by the Mobile County Commission.
Defense attorneys made the representation that the $82,000 Crawford overcharged was the reason his contract was terminated by commissioners, but former County Commissioner Stephen Nodine told Lagniappe yesterday the commissioners at the time were never informed about the overcharge or the “payment plan” Ruffer set up for Crawford to repay the county.
The county had several highly-publicized discussions about his contract, causing Crawford to change the name of his company from APL Software Engineering Inc. to Bienville Rock Software Inc. On the stand, he said that was because the previous name “had been sullied.”
Crawford also disclosed a nine-hour charge he removed from a bill for March 6, 2015. According to his testimony, he had billed the county for those hours but then removed them from a final bill after a supervisor pointed out he hadn’t reported to work that day due to a personal situation.
Still, Crawford maintained he had worked those hours, and only removed them because to he didn’t want to cause trouble at the office. Crawford is currently paid at least $150 per hour.
In the courtroom, attention was also put on Crawford’s 2010 divorce, which promoted him to fill out court documents establishing child support payments. In those documents, Crawford listed his monthly income as $12,500, which defense attorneys questioned because of his company’s lucrative contracts and limited staff. When asked on the stand, Crawford said a monthly income of $22,000 “sounded about right” to him.
“Mr. Crawford, you made $22,000, but wanted to tell the court you only had $12,500 for your baby?,” Knizley asked, pointing out Crawford’s previous statements that he went to the FBI in the best interest of his daughter.
Crawford said that figure was a monthly salary he pays himself, and that other tax documents about his company, required by the court, were submitted at the same time.
During his direct examination, Crawford said Hastie had used intimidation to make him pay for several things including political contributions to her political campaign and gifts for office Christmas parties. He said Hastie started directing him to pay invoices from the public relations company Strateco for work the company did at the license commission in 2014.
Crawford said those payments to Strateco prompted him to go to the authorities.
According to Crawford, he started receiving those invoices via email, and paid the first of them with his personal checking account without discussing the payments with Hastie or her alleged co-conspirator Deputy License Commissioner Ramona Yeager. The rest of those Strateco payments were funded through cash Crawford received from the FBI.
However, defense attorneys have suggested going to the FBI and becoming a protected whistleblower was Crawford’s way of protecting his contract from termination.
In undercover videos produced by the FBI, Hastie can be seen talking to Crawford about his performance at work. Defense attorneys pointed out that in those videos Hastie says “people are saying you’re never here” when discussing Crawford’s hours at the office.
She also talks about several projects he had yet to complete, including one dealing with boating licenses she claimed he’d been working on since 2008. On multiple occasions in the video, Hastie asks Crawford to hire more people saying, “you can’t do all this by yourself, Victor.”
The payments to Strateco and the company’s president Chad Tucker are a significant portion of this case, and are the basis for the multiple mail and wire fraud charges against Hastie and Yeager that comprise the majority of the 17-count indictment.
Though prosecutors have called those payments a conspiracy, defense attorneys have maintained they are perfectly legal and proper because Crawford’s contract contains a provision that requires him to hire additional companies “when needed” at Hastie’s discretion.
Both parties have already established Crawford’s company does not and cannot provide the type of services Strateco was billing — social media and internet marketing. That, the defense claims, would make it perfectly legal to have Crawford cover those additional needs under his $485,000 year-to-year contract.
In his cross-examination, Hanley also extensively questioned a payment to a similar company, which like Strateco, was billed through APL Software in 2012. That company, Wakefly, was hired to help install and train employees on a template-based web design program.
According to defense attorneys, Crawford had no problem making those payments, but went straight to the FBI when he began receiving the Strateco invoices last March. Knizley made the representation Crawford wanted “to get Mrs. Hastie in some kind of trouble,” but Crawford denied those allegations multiple times.
Wakefly was also brought up during U.S. Attorney Gregory Bordenkircher’s redirect of Crawford. According to Bordenkircher, the difference between the Wakefly agreement and the Strateco invoices was the presence of a written contract.
There was never a written contact with Strateco, only an alleged verbal agreement between Tucker and Hastie. Prosecutors showed a piece of evidence submitted by the defense detailing the invoices from Wakefly, but also pointed out that exhibit was missing pages when it was presented by the defense.
“There are four pages removed from this, aren’t there?” Bordenkircher asked. “So the written agreement with Wakefly wasn’t attached to what defense council gave to you on the stand?”
The issue over that missing contract was being discussed as court was adjourned Thursday afternoon. On Friday, Crawford will finish up his redirect with the prosecution in his third straight day of testimony.
DAILY COVERAGE OF THE KIM HASTIE CORRUPTION TRIAL
May 28: Hastie defense scrutinizes whistleblower’s billing practices
May 27: Hastie: ‘I only put what I wanted them to see’
May 27: Employee testimony: ‘Hastie asked for a list of emails’
May 26: Opening arguments presented in Hastie corruption trial