Space was tight in U.S. Magistrate Judge Sonja Bivins courtroom Thursday, as overcrowding prevented members of the media from sitting in on the arraignment for the latest of 18 federal charges filed against Mobile County License Commissioner Kim Hastie.
Hastie pleaded not guilty to two additional charges on Wednesday, one of tax evasion and another alleging she and Deputy License Commissioner Ramona Yeager orchestrated the release of personal information from residents in state’s automobile registration database for political purposes.
In January, the charge of leaking personal information was tacked on to a 16-count public corruption indictment Hastie and Yeager were named in last November. Those charges were also in line with an informal complaint Mobile County received prior to the indictment.
That complaint, filed by two private citizens, claimed Hastie knowingly disclosed the email addresses of 30,853 Mobile County residents “without their consent or prior knowledge to a political consulting firm,” which then disseminated emails to those residents showing Hastie’s support for Mayor Sandy Stimpson.Hastie’s husband, John Melvin Hastie Jr., wound up entangled in the license commissioner’s latest indictments, and escorted her to court on Thursday afternoon. Charged with attempting to defraud the United States of America, Hastie and her Husband stand accused of using “deceit, craft and trickery” to conceal $58,632.66 the couple received from brokering land transactions.
The indictment says the couple “filed fraudulent federal income tax returns” and attempted to divert income earned by Hastie Jr. to their daughter, all in an attempt to disguise and shield income. The fraud allegations also specify two false statements of economic interest filed with the Alabama Ethics Commission that attempted to conceal an additional $38,400.
Hastie Jr., who is being represented by defense attorney Jeff Deen, also pleaded not guilty to his federal charges on Wednesday.
Lagniappe attempted to contact Neil Hanley, one of the four attorneys representing Hastie and her Husband, when the new indictments were made public in January, but was never able to establish contact. However, following her second arraignment Wednesday, Hastie and Hanley took time to make statements and take questions from reporters.
“I continue to thank everybody for their support. It’s been very overwhelming and very heartfelt,” Hastie said in a prepared statement. “I just look forward to my day in court, where the truth can come out.”
Hanley echoed those sentiments saying in his 40-years of experience in federal court, he’s “amazed at how often the right thing happens,” and “how well the justice system works.”
As he did when addressing her initial indictment, Hanley said Hastie didn’t “trick, deceive or cheat anybody.
“In fact, it’s just the opposite,” Hanley said. “(Kim) has probably saved more money for the people of Mobile County than any public servant in the past 50 years.”
As for the new charges, Hanley accused the government of “digging deep” to come up with an “obscure statute,” that he and the other members of Hastie’s legal team haven’t found any previous examples of.
“This is a case of classic federal overreach,” Hanley said. “She’s indicted on an infraction. “It’s lower than a misdemeanor, and it carries no jail time. Kim is not guilty of that charge and she is definitely not guilty of conspiring to evade income tax.”
Hanley said the two newest charges are not only unfounded, but were improperly joined to the original 16 corruption charges. He also said he plans to ask the court to sever the latest indictments from the current legal proceeding.When asked by reporters about a possible plea deal, Hanley maintained there was no such discussions on the table saying, “She’s not guilty. We don’t plea bargain innocent people.”
Deen spoke briefly with reporters, but only to say that Hastie Jr. has also opted to enter a plea of “not guilty.”
A pretrial conference has been previously scheduled for early March, but due to the additional charges, the February date of jury selection was pushed back, which could ultimately push that date of back if the new charges aren’t severed.