"This is pretty much quite a shock," Bench stated. "We are not aware that a grand jury of any kind was looking at anyone in our office."
However, the most shocking thing about the investigation of King for bloggers who keep a close watch on the Alabama political scene may have been "that it took so long for someone to get around to investigating him."
Allegations of a political vendettaAccording to the Birmingham News, at least six former employees of King's office were called before a federal grand jury in Montgomery last week and asked about "issues related to gambling," as well as the possibility that King might have used his office to investigate particular individuals on behalf of his political allies.
Sources familiar with the case told the News that the prosecutors appeared particularly interested in King's investigation of former Tuscaloosa City Councilman Jerry Plott. Plott has claimed that King began a vendetta against him after he opposed using public money to help a King ally, Tuscaloosa businessman Stan Pate, build a shopping center.
Pate has denied asking King for any favors, claiming that he merely took evidence of what he believed to be corruption on the part of Plott and others to US Attorney Alice Martin, who referred him to the attorney general's office.
According to writers Kevin Lee and Rob Holbert:
"Luther Stancel 'Stan' Pate IV is a businessman renowned in the Tuscaloosa suburb of Northport for his excitability and successful business acumen. Like other wealthy developers, he took a keen interest in politics and felt a 'hands on' approach best suited his needs and sometimes raised a few eyebrows. Pate held press conferences replete with thousands in cash as props to promote gambling initiatives. He was affiliated with an ad campaign to subvert Gov. Riley. Never hesitant to insert himself in public affairs, Pate even toyed with a candidacy for governor in 2002."
When Tuscaloosa Council President Jerry Plott and Councilman Kip Tyner refused in 2005 to appropriate $16 million in public funds for Pate's proposed shopping center, Pate launched a campaign to discredit both men. He filed ethics charges against them and even set up a website which asked readers to submit accounts of corruption on Plott's part.
"He never could get the ethics commission to give me any trouble. So then he decided to take it to his friend Troy King in the AG’s office," Plott told the Lagniappe Mobile reporters. "All of a sudden, I’d get inquiries from investigators from the AG’s office."
Plott wrote to King's office on June 28, 2005, saying, "Your office also recently investigated a complaint against me filed by Mr. Pate. I am concerned that Mr. Pate is attempting to use the Attorney General’s office, as he has used the Ethics Commission, to continue his personal vendetta against several members of the Tuscaloosa City Council."
Plott eventually decided to stop serving on the City Council, a decision which he bitterly blames on Pate's harrassment. King's investigation of Tyner apparently ceased following Plott's letter, but it resumed after King had won re-election in 2006, in a campaign to which Pate and the numerous state PACs with which he is connected contributed generously.
Suspected ethical violations pile upBy 2007, Alabama bloggers were starting to compile long lists of ethical questions concerning King. One blog, the Daily Dixie, even had an entire webpage devoted to them, titled Troy King's Greatest Hits -- a page which is now available only through the Internet Archive.
Last July, however, even more scandalous rumors began circulating, claiming that the religiously conservative and overtly homophobic King had been caught by his wife in bed with a male aide. These rumors were fueled in part by a Birmingham News article, headed "AG King boosts top aides salaries," which reported:
"Not receiving raises has not been a problem for another King employee — 24-year-old John W. Godwin. Godwin started working in the attorneys general office as an unpaid intern last summer, when he was a senior at Troy University. Shortly after arriving in Kings office, Godwin was put on the payroll at $10 an hour. Over the next nine months, Godwin rapidly ascended the ladder. In July 2007, King appointed him as a special administrative assistant earning $39,456 a year. He completed his degree in broadcast journalism in December, and on March 27 was named to his current title of executive assistant, a job paying $57,504 annually, according to state records. 'J.W. is an exceptional young man who is the chief aide to the attorney general and who is almost indispensable in terms of the many functions he carries out in this office,' [King spokesman Chris] Bence said."