The “whistleblower” who testified against Mobile County Revenue Commissioner Kim Hastie at her 2015 criminal trial has taken the first step toward filing a wrongful termination lawsuit, adding to the outlying legal issues that still surround the three-year-old allegations.
That former contractor, Victor Crawford, was employed by Mobile County for 26 years in a number of capacities but saw his long-standing computer programming contract with the License Commission terminated less than six months after testifying against Hastie.
County Commissioners voted 2-1 to terminate Crawford’s contract in December 2015 at the request of License Commissioner Nick Matranga, who sat with Hastie’s family and friends throughout her two-week trial and was appointed as her replacement when she took over the Revenue Commission.
At the time, Matranga said Crawford’s termination had “nothing to do with [Hastie’s] trial,” and was instead due to the cost county’s contract with Crawford’scompany, APL Software Inc. According to Matranga, the average cost of that contract was $47,000 a month.
Crawford has a documented history of overbilling the county for his work, which is something Hastie’s defense attorneys quickly zeroed in. According to public expense records, his company billed the county for at least $6,312,462 between 1999 and 2014.
However, others saw his termination as retaliatory including County Commissioner Merceria Ludgood, who at the time said she believed Crawford’s cooperation in Hastie’s trial was “absolutely the underlying motivation” for the decision — a theory the former contractor seems to share.
On Jan. 13, Crawford filed notice of a wrongful termination claim with the county, which is usually the first step in any lawsuit brought against the Commission or other county officials.
In the document, Crawford claims “Kim Hastie, the Mobile County Revenue Commission and the Mobile County Commission” violated state and federal law when they terminated APL Software’s contract, and if a lawsuit moves forward, they’ll be the most likely defendants.
On Wednesday, Mobile County Attorney Jay Ross told Lagniappe the county has “received the claim” and would “review and process it as we do other claims.”
Crawford was a key witness in the case against Hastie. After blowing the whistle to federal authorities, he wore a hidden camera, provided hundreds of documents to prosecutors and worked with the FBI to bill the county for services Hastie was aware he hadn’t performed.
She was also accused of “extorting” Crawford into hiding payments to a political consultant within his monthly invoices, buying presents for her office Christmas party and covering her qualifying fee in the 2014 Republican Primary.
Crawford said he was asked to do the latter by former County Engineer Joe Ruffer, who he claimed to be a personal friend and mentor prior to Hastie’s investigation and prosecution.
In last week’s complaint, Crawford wrote that when he “balked” at Ruffer’s request to pay Hastie’s qualifying fee, he was told, “’You better do as she wants or she’s gonna fire your motherf*cking ass.’”
While the three-page complaint goes on to rehash a number of claims from Hastie’s federal indictment, Crawford also discussed the aftermath of the trial and how it affected his work at the License Commission under Hastie.
Among other things, Crawford claims he was no longer allowed to attend conferences or participate in staff meetings and teleconferences with state officials — all of which he claims “interfered with [his] ability to effectively perform” his work.
Crawford also wrote that Hastie and her former deputy license commissioner and co-defendant, Ramona Yeager, “stopped communicating” with him after the 2015 trial concluded.
“Kim Hastie refused to sign my invoices, and only after pleading with County Administrator John Pafenbach did Kim Hastie sign my invoices with a disclaimer that read ‘only on advice of counsel,’” he continued.
When a claim like Crawford’s is filed, the county typically investigates the allegations through a third-party administrator — a requirement of the county’s excess insurance carrier. As of now, there’s no way to know when or if Crawford might move forward with a formal civil lawsuit.
However, if that does occur, it will only one of three legal matters Hastie could be dealing related to the allegations she bested in 2015.
While a jury cleared Hastie of 16 of her 17 criminal charges, she was convicted of “misusing personal information” for providing the email addresses for 30,000 private citizens to the 2013 campaign of Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson acquired from a federally-protected database used to register motorists at the License Commission.
Hastie has since appealed that misdemeanor conviction. However, a response from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has yet to be rendered. The appeal has stalled a separate, civil lawsuit against Hastie filed in 2015 by Anitra Diamond and Labarron Yates.
Diamond and Yates are both residents of Mobile County who claim Hastie violated the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) and their personal privacy by disseminating their email addresses for a political purpose.
When the allegations of Hastie’s use of the license commission’s email database first surfaced in 2014, Stimpson released a statement distancing himself from the actions of the Strateco Inc., which ran his 2013 campaign.
“Our campaign relied on its hired consultants to deliver the most advanced digital campaign possible,” Stimpson said. “They managed and directed all social media and voter outreach efforts with the public. We were assured that all of their efforts in that regard were in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations.”
Chad Tucker, owner and operator of Strateco, was named individually in that lawsuit as well.