Day two of Mobile County License Commissioner Kim Hastie’s public corruption trial focused on testimony from the witness who alerted the federal government to the alleged conspiracy — computer contractor Victor T. Crawford.
Several of Hastie’s charges revolve around expenses she allegedly hid from the Mobile County Commission through Crawford’s company, APL Software Engineering. Her November indictment also suggested she used intimidation to extort Crawford into making political contributions to her political campaign and purchasing gifts for office Christmas parties.
The defense has previously tried to categorize those expenses as “gifts,” but Crawford testified today that he agreed to the payments because he “feared for his job” with the license commission — a contract he’s maintained since 1991. Crawford also testified Hastie had fired employees she felt “crossed by” and made working conditions so difficult for others they decided to quit on their own.
“(In an office meeting), Hastie stated she was ‘really easygoing until you cross her, then it’s hell,’” Crawford testified. “If she said, ‘I needed to pay for things,’ then I paid for things. If I didn’t, I thought I would see a letter written and I would be let go by the county.”
APL Software Engineering is currently contracted to provide computer programming support at the license commission, a contract that can be terminated if the “Mobile County License Commissioner is dissatisfied with work for any reason whatsoever.” Crawford said Hastie could take his job with the stroke of a pen.In his testimony, Crawford mentioned loyalty several times. He said employees that had “crossed Hastie” in the past had been fired or made to work lower positions around the office. He gave examples of at least two high-ranking employees who were made to work the driver’s license booth at Hastie’s direction, including an IT department employee and former Deputy License Commissioner Gerard Hamilton.
According to Crawford, Hastie told him Hamilton was put in that position in hopes he would “get tired of her treatment of him and leave.”
Federal prosecutors declared Crawford a “whistleblower,” which means his $150 per hour salary is currently secure. Prior to Hastie’s indictment, records show APL Software Engineering charged the license commission $292,958 between November 2013 and June 2014.
During that period, Crawford said Hastie encouraged him to “pad his bills” to the Mobile County Commission to be reimbursed for payments to Strateco LLC, which was doing social media and direct mail marketing work for Hastie at the time.
However, Crawford testified he never “padded his bill” because it was illegal and he recognized “they put people in prison for that.”
Strateco, run by Chad Tucker, was previously named Mobi-Media. According to Crawford, he paid Mobi-Media around $10,500 through APL Software Engineering in 2012 for work performed on Hastie’s behalf. Prosecutors presented financial documents to substantiate Crawford’s claims.
Crawford said that was the last time he heard about Tucker until February 2014, when Strateco employee Wesley Gunter emailed him an invoice for a $2,500 “consulting retainer.” The prosecution presented the invoice labeled “Kim Hastie consulting retainer,” which was attached to an email with the subject, “Kim Hastie said you would take care of this.”
At the time, Crawford said he had no idea who Gunter was or what Strateco was, but without even speaking with Hastie he paid the invoice with a personal check he delivered to the Strateco office.
“When it said ‘Kim Hastie’ I said, ‘Oh, she wants me to pay for something else now.’” Crawford said. “I knew if I got it, she got it — so I thought I’d better go ahead and pay.”
In the next two months, Crawford received two additional invoices via email, but because he still wasn’t sure why he was receiving correspondence from Strateco, he “sat on them.”
Crawford claims then, Hastie’s co-defendant Deputy License Commissioner Ramona Yeager confronted him about the Strateco payments on April 15, 2014. According to Crawford’s recollection, Yeager made several comments about “billing expenses like Mrs. Hastie wants,” which he understood to be about the late payments to Strateco.
Crawford testified that on the same day, he contacted a family friend, an employee of the U.S. Marshals Service about the activities in Hastie’s office. On the stand, Crawford became emotional discussing his decision.
“I didn’t care if had to pick up cans on the side of the roads and flip burgers to feed my baby — they wanted me to steal from the County Commission and I wasn’t going to do it,” he said.
Strateco continued to bill Crawford for several months in 2014, he testified. Meanwhile, Crawford agreed to wear a recording device under the direction of the FBI, and subsequent conversations about the invoices were recorded.
On Wednesday afternoon, the prosecution played several recorded conversations between Crawford, Yeager and Hastie, while U.S. District Judge Kristi Dubose deemed others inadmissible.
In video recordings admitted into evidence, Hastie can been heard discussing her attempts to have the services listed on Strateco’s invoices changed from “Kim Hastie consulting.” In one video, Hastie said there would be an issue with Strateco including her name on the bills sent to Crawford’s company.
In their opening arguments, defense attorneys said Strateco’s payments were legal and proper because the county’s contract with APL Software Engineering allows for “other related services” to be added at the discretion of the license commissioner.
However, Crawford said his business has nothing to do with marketing, political consulting, social media or any of the services Strateco provided. He also testified multiple times about his lack of knowledge of the scope of work Strateco was performing for Hastie.
In the video, Hastie discusses attempts to reclassify Strateco’s expenses to make them seem related to computers. Emails and other documents show several attempts to change the services listed on those invoices.
In one recording, Crawford and Hastie discuss the process:
“I realized I can’t have it saying that, if it’s going to have my name I need to pay it,” Hastie says in the video. “If anybody was to ask you, that’s what it’s for. It’ll be the newsletter, social media and Facebook (because). That’s kind of like IT and that’s what it’s all about. It’s easy and it justifies it because that’s all (Strateco) does. I just want to run it through you because I didn’t want to listen to Merceria and them.”
Crawford said Hastie was referring to Mobile County Commissioner Merceria Ludgood, who along with the other two commissioners approve the expenses of the license commission each month. In other recordings, both Hastie and Yeager make statements about organizing Crawford’s invoices in such a way that they wouldn’t “draw too much attention.”
Crawford also testified Hastie had encouraged him to falsify reports to help get approval for a segregated account funded from a $1.25 charge assessed to all electronic transactions at the license commission.
Hastie championed the state legislation to establish that account, but according to Crawford she also directed him to gather a summary of those transactions to present to the county commission and state legislators prior to the law taking effect.
“She directed me to gather a number of transactions and to keep the number of transaction down to a minimum so it would not show the fund generating as much money as it actually would,” Crawford said. “It was not a fair representation of what was going to actually be collected because she said it would make it more palatable to the legislature, who didn’t like tax increases. She said it would generate money for the office.”
In another video recorded by Crawford, Hastie is seen discussing the account and how it was presented to county commissioners. In the video she appears to say, “I only put what I wanted them to see.”
Dubose dismissed the jury early today at the request of Hastie’s defense counsel, who said they weren’t provided a copy of the prosecution’s recordings in time to review them. Complying with the request, Dubose postponed Crawford’s cross examination until Thursday morning.