Only hours after a 16-count indictment was released against Mobile County License Commissioner Kim Hastie, a team of attorneys held a press conference where they called the allegations “ludicrous.”
Neil Hanley, of the Hanley of Hanley Law Firm, addressed allegations including conspiracy, extortion and wire fraud by saying, “Kim Hastie did not trick, deceive or cheat anybody — particularly the citizens of Mobile County, who she has served so faithfully and so well.”
He refused to discuss specifics about the indictment, but addressed some of the main charges Hastie is facing.
Regarding allegations of falsifying invoices to hide expenses paid to two public relations firms related to Hastie’s push to combine the offices of licence and revenue commissioner, Hanley said Wednesday “there were no falsified invoices.”
“The funds spent were perfectly lawful, legal and above board and were related to informing the public on this issue and in getting a bill drafted in the legislature,” Hanley said. “The hiring of this marketing firm to put out a newsletter was proper and legal, and the hiring of a firm to help draft legislation and help to get it passed is perfectly legal and perfectly proper. There was never any scheme, trick of deception.”
Hastie told Lagniappe over the summer that she used Strateco to produce a monthly newsletter about the officer merger that was sent out with tag renewal notices. She also disclosed her office had paid Strategy PR around $10,000 to help draft the proposed bill.
Other allegations of extortion in the indictment were rooted in claims that Victor Crawford, a computer programmer contracted through Hastie’s office, had been coerced by Hastie into contributing to her campaign and into buying several miscellaneous electronic items for her office’s Christmas Party.
“Kim Hastie, with the reputation she has in this community, is not going to break the law for an $1,800 campaign contribution,” Hanley said. “She has literally hundreds of friends who would have made that contribution for her. To say she forced anybody to do it is ludicrous — the same way it is to say she forced anybody to provide raffle gifts for the License Commission’s Christmas Party.”
Hanley said Crawford’s choices to buy the items and donate to Hastie’s campaign were completely voluntary. When asked if Crawford was lying, Hanley said, “what is alleged in the indictment, isn’t true, and I’ll you take it from there.”
According to the indictment, Crawford went along with Hastie’s plan to falsify documents because he was worried he would be fired. However, Hanley said Hastie doesn’t have the power to fire Crawford in the first place.
According to County Attorney Jay Ross, the contract employing Crawford would be in the hands of the County Commissioners — though they are advised by heads of each department on contract decisions.
In line with claims of extortion over Crawford, the indictment said Hastie had created “a culture of intimidation” for her employees — a claim Hanley referred to as completely erroneous.
“You talk to some of her employees,” he said. “She’s endeared, almost revered for the way she’s transformed this office. We look forward to our day in court where 12 members of our community will decide that.”
As for the day in court, Hanley said it hasn’t been set. He did say Hastie wouldn’t be required to turn herself in to law enforcement because she will be receiving a summons.
Hanley confirmed that FBI agents did visit Hastie’s office in July, but denied rumors that Hastie had already turned down a plea deal from federal investigators.
Ross said taxpayers wouldn’t be on the hook for funding Hastie’s defense, and said all three county commissioners had turned over documents related to the investigation after they were subpoenaed by the FBI.
As for the oversight behind the charges, Ross said most invoices are handled by administrative staff members.
“The Commission doesn’t review every single bill in great detail, and the finance department doesn’t audit every single invoice,” he said. “They get hundreds of bills every week, and they have no control over the day-to-day operations of the county.”
Ross said commissioners were not informed about Hastie’s indictment prior to its release.
Commissioner Jerry Carl said the commission had cooperated with everything that was asked, and said going forward it would be business as usual.
“Everyone is innocent until proven guilty,” Carl said. “Let’s let the system do what it’s suppose to do. Kim has a job to do and we expect her to do it.”
Hanley told reporters Wednesday Hastie has no plans to step down.
State Rep. Margie Wilcox, who co-sponsored Hastie’s consolidation bill, said there is still a plan to move forward with merging the offices. The bill was brought up during the legislature’s last session but never made it out of committee.
“I’d still like to save the taxpayers over $1 million a year — that’s what we’re suppose to do, be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money,” she said. “It was going to be introduced, but held over so it could be put on the ballot and voted on by the people.”
As for the allegations against Hastie, Wilcox called the situation a “travesty of justice” that would “have a chilling effect on anyone who wants to step up and serve their community.”
“I’m offended, angry and upset that the federal government would go after a person who did exactly what she said she was going to do — ‘10-Minute Tags,’” Wilcox said. “I know how hard she has worked to accomplish (that) and how her employees have worked, and this is the thanks they get.”