After nearly two years of what looked to be an open-and-shut investigation of steroid distribution, court records suggest the case against personal trainer Danny Williams mostly served as a catalyst to investigate suspected corruption in Orange Beach.
Court files show the investigation started around January 2014, but affidavits and court testimony show it was led by Ketrick Kelley, an agent with the white-collar crime division of the FBI who does not normally prosecute federal drug offenses.
Despite a confession and large amounts of evidence against Williams, his case lay dormant for more than a year and he didn’t see the inside of a courtroom until July 2015.
It was his initial detention hearing that brought out details of the FBI using Williams in an attempt to find corruption among public officials in Orange Beach.
On July 2, 2015, that hearing put Kelley and Williams on the stand.
Lagniappe was able to obtain an audio recording of the hearing that includes sworn testimony discussing an FBI investigation into the Orange Beach Police Department, the City Council and Mayor Tony Kennon, specifically.In response to a question from Williams attorney Dom Soto, Kelley confirmed that from the beginning of his investigation Williams told the FBI he wasn’t aware of Kennon having done anything illegal, but was willing to cooperate with their investigation.
Agent Kelley testified he believed Williams and Kennon to be “close friends.” Though Williams ultimately pleaded guilty to the charges against him, he also testified he never sold drugs to Kennon, never saw him use drugs and never saw him commit any other crime he was aware of.
“He told me he was after some bigger fish. He wanted to know about Tony Kennon. He wanted to know about city councilmen, police officers and dirty politicians,” Williams says on the recording.
Williams has previously worked on a contract basis at the recreation center owned by the city, where he provided personal training services and hosted boot-camp classes for city employees, including some police officers, at no charge.Kennon told Lagniappe the facility offers free services to city employees from several contracted personal trainers including Williams, who was also involved with a youth mentoring program through the recreation center.
There was never any mention in court of the FBI suspecting any city officials of using or purchasing steroids, other than Williams testifying that he “didn’t think Tony [Kennon] was doing” them.
Williams testified Kelley set up and recorded at least two phone calls made to Kennon in between Williams’ admission to selling steroids and his eventual indictment more than a year later.
Lagniappe reached out to Kennon, who said he was aware of a possible investigation but chose not to comment further upon the advice of the city’s attorney.
“At this point I don’t have any facts,” Kennon said. “All I’ve heard is hearsay, and I think it’d be best not to comment at this time.”
Kennon did defend the city’s reputation, though, saying he would “challenge anyone to find a more citizen-driven, open, honest and transparent government than what we offer in Orange Beach.”
History of altercations
On the stand, Williams said in one of the taped phone calls to Kennon he was directed to bring up a bar fight in 2013 that resulted in an assault charge against Williams.
Both Williams and Kelley confirmed Kennon attended that event, which was a Christmas party for a local doctor at the now-closed Toby Keith’s Bar and Grill on Dec. 14, 2013. By all accounts, including his own, Williams struck Gary Downs after a confrontation at the party, rendering him unconscious.
During his detention hearing, Williams maintained he was not the aggressor, but written statements from Downs and his wife claim otherwise. Subsequent witness testimony from a later trial also gave conflicting reports of the incident.
No arrests were made that night, but a police report described it as an assault. Medical records filed in court show Downs was intoxicated upon admittance to the hospital, where he was treated for a concussion, lacerations and brain injuries.
Williams was later taken into custody on a warrant for third-degree assault.
After a conviction in Orange Beach Municipal Court, the case was appealed to a district court in Summerdale. Again, Williams was convicted of assault, but that verdict was overturned on a final appeal to the Baldwin County Circuit Court in Bay Minette.
Though the charges were ultimately thrown out, that incident and other altercations were the reasons Kelley gave on the stand for bringing a complaint against Williams almost 10 months after he had last made contact with him.
When cross-examined, Soto asked if the agency moved forward with the steroids charges because Williams failed to help “further their other investigations,” but Kelley denied that.
Conviction and sentencing
Williams was convicted in September after pleading guilty to one count of conspiring to distribute steroids. Sixteen other charges against him, including cocaine distribution, importing steroids from foreign countries and money laundering, were dropped.
At his sentencing hearing on Dec. 18, Chris Litton, an Orange Beach employee who oversees the recreation department, spoke on Williams’ behalf. He gave examples of Williams’ work with youth mentoring programs and touted a 2011 mixed martial arts event Williams organized and fought in for charity.
Judge Kristi Dubose said she received letters of support for Williams from community leaders and business owners in Orange Beach. Lagniappe attempted to obtain those letters, but they were not filed publicly.
Dubose also stopped attempts from prosecutors to rehash the details of altercations Williams was involved in, saying, “We’re not here to try an assault case.”
After the majority of the charges against Williams were dropped, a sentence that was initially calculated at a possible 20 years was rendered at 12 months — split evenly between federal prison and home confinement.
After his incarceration, Williams will be under three years of supervised release and must submit to regular drug testing and attend mandatory anger-management classes.
As for the investigation into Orange Beach, officials on both sides have largely declined to comment, and to date, no indictments or criminal complaints have been filed against any public officials.
Correction: The original version of this story stated that a municipal judge was recused from Danny Williams’ case in 2014. Court records show Williams was in fact tried and convicted during open court in Orange Beach.