An ethics query has found Mobile County Revenue Commissioner Kim Hastie violated state ethics law while serving in her former capacity as license commissioner by distributing the private email addresses of local motorists to Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s 2013 political campaign.
At its Feb. 1 meeting, the Alabama Ethics Commission reviewed the findings of an investigation into an ethics complaint against Hastie in an executive session closed to the public. Afterward, commissioners unanimously concluded Hastie had run afoul of Alabama’s ethics laws for public officials while she was still serving in her previous role as license commissioner.“Based on evidence presented to this commission, there exists cause to hold that Kim Hastie, Mobile County license commissioner, has violated Alabama Ethics law,” Ethics Commissioner Charles Price said. “I further move the case be referred from here for appropriate action to the office of the attorney general of the state of Alabama.”
Video from the commission’s Feb. 1 ruling is available here.
Though the commission did not publicly discuss the nature of Hastie’s violation, Lagniappe has confirmed through multiple sources familiar with the investigation that it was at least partially centered on the events that led to her criminal conviction in 2015.
Though a jury acquitted Hastie of more than a dozen other charges, she was unanimously convicted of a simple violation of the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) for turning over roughly 30,000 email addresses from a license commission database to a political consultant working for Stimpson’s campaign.
The ethics ruling has come down just as attorneys handling Hastie’s appeal of the DPPA conviction are preparing for oral arguments before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on Feb. 24, though exactly what her defense will be is still unclear.
During the 2015 trial, the defense offered no testimony to counter Hastie’s involvement in the disclosure of those email addresses. Instead, her attorneys argued that email addresses wouldn’t be considered “personal information” under the DPPA and claimed prosecutors failed to prove Hastie would have been subject to its requirements at the time the emails were passed to the Stimpson campaign.
This week, attorney Neil Hanley confirmed his role in defending Hastie at the upcoming hearing and in the recent ethics hearing, though he declined to comment on either. As of press deadline, calls to Hastie and an attorney for the ethics commission had not been returned.
Though Price recommended referring Hastie’s case to the Alabama Attorney General’s office, there’s little chance state prosecutors would pursue any type of prosecution given Hastie’s federal conviction for violating the DPPA.
In lieu of prosecution, the ethics commission is able to assess administrative penalties and fines on public officials who violate ethics laws. While there have been claims that Hastie was fined, Lagniappe has been unable to independently verify them.
Regardless of the outcome, though, the same circumstances surrounding those leaked email addresses have already prompted one civil lawsuit against Hastie. Filed by two Mobile residents, the suit claims local motorists’ privacy was violated when their email addresses were disseminated for a political purpose.
However, that action is on hold pending the outcome of Hastie’s appeal in the related criminal charge. Mobile County Attorney Jay Ross said he plans to attend the hearing in that case next week because the pending civil lawsuit could still have ramifications for the Mobile County Commission due to Hastie being sued in her official capacity.
“At this point, it’s still unclear to what extent the county commission might have liability if the license commission were held to have some type of liability,” Ross added. “We’re required to finance the operations of the license commission, but all that is still yet to be determined.”
The outlying appeal, the civil suit against Hastie and the recent ethics investigation have only been compounded by the threat of yet another lawsuit submitted last month by a former contractor instrumental in the charges brought against Hastie in 2014.
Victor Crawford, who’s worked the county in various capacities for more than two decades, saw his computer contract with the license commission terminated less than six months after testifying against Hastie. It has also revealed that it was Crawford who initially made contact with the federal agents that would ultimately indict his former boss.
In 2015, Hastie’s defense claimed Crawford had been a friend of the former license commissioner for years, and though Crawford downplayed that relationship on the stand, they’ve both admitted to being close friends and apprentices of former County Engineer Joe Ruffer.
In the notice of claim Crawford filed with the county last month, he repeated allegations Hastie has already been acquitted of, including that she’d “extorted” him into hiding payments to a political consultant within his monthly invoices and forced him to pay her qualifying fee in the 2014 GOP primary.
Crawford claims it was Ruffer who asked him to do the latter, allegedly saying, “You better do as [Hastie] wants or she’s gonna fire your motherf**king ass.” Though Crawford’s claims haven’t been substantiated, a review of ethics opinions from the time suggests Ruffer had been particularly interested in helping Hastie and her family.
Shortly after Hastie’s indictment, Ross requested an ethics opinion as to whether Ruffer could gift $5,000 to Hastie’s daughter to help cover the cost of “her undergraduate degree at Auburn University” — an exception the commission deemed appropriate due to the pair’s “longstanding personal relationship.”
That degree became relevant in a separate criminal trial Hastie and her husband, John Melvin Hastie Jr., faced over a handful of tax evasion charges in 2015. In that case, Hastie Jr.’s second cousin, Neil McMillan, testified to passing a $5,323 stumpage fee for timber cut on his property to the Hasties’ daughter in a deal supervised by the company Hastie Jr. worked for at the time.
However, the prosecution contested that money was never used for college tuition nor was it reported on the couple’s income taxes. McMillan later testified that he’d never knowingly paid for tuition nor “provided any other funds” to the children directly.
McMillan went on corroborate an interview transcript that recorded him saying he’d “thought the family could use the extra money because of their recent indictments.” He also didn’t dispute the $5,323 payment “just happened to occur right as they were indicted.”
A trial on the tax allegations against the Hasties ended in a mistrial due to a hung jury in May 2015. U.S. Attorney Kenyen Brown ultimately opted not to seek a retrial.
Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to Victor Crawford as an employee of Mobile County. Though Crawford worked for the county for a number of years, that work was performed on a contract basis.