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Will the First Family of GOP Sleaze Wind Up in the Crosshairs?

By       Message Roger Shuler     Permalink
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Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer

Recent news accounts have focused our attention on the Rileys, the first family of Republican sleaze in Alabama--and one of the nastiest conservative clans in the country.

Of course, it's not new for our attention to be focused on the Rileys; we've been reporting on their wickedness pretty much from the day this blog started four years ago, in June 2007. But we are seeing signs that the attention of others--the general public, the mainstream press, perhaps even law enforcement--is turning toward the Rileys.

Bob Riley, the governor of Alabama from 2003 to 2011, and his ethically challenged son, Homewood lawyer Rob Riley, have enjoyed the benefits of a Teflon coating that would have made Ronald Reagan proud. At least one national pundit, MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, has openly pushed for a Bob Riley presidential run in 2012--and Karl Rove reportedly has been intrigued because Riley's poofy 'do reminds him of Reagan. Meanwhile, we hear from numerous sources that Rob Riley is itching to run for governor, perhaps as early as 2014.

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But for the first time since the Rileys rose to statewide power--on the backs of an election that almost certainly was stolen from Democrat Don Siegelman in 2002--we are seeing signs and hearing reports that Bob and Rob's fortunes might take a turn for the worse before too long. Given the pathetic performance of the Obama Justice Department, I'm not holding my breath. But there is reason to believe that the Rileys luck might not hold out forever.

(A couple of notes: First, we should acknowledge that our headline is a tad misleading. The true first family of GOP sleaze certainly is the Bushes. But the Rileys--with their ties to Jack Abramoff, dirty gambling money, and what probably amounts to an organized-crime network--certainly deserve a place in the pantheon of Republican underhandedness. Second, we need to come up with a phrase other than "GOP sleaze." We are learning that, at least in Alabama, there are some individual Republicans who possess a conscience. In fact, we know of some Republicans who find the Rileys to be almost as repugnant as I do. If anyone ever brings the Rileys down, I suspect certain Republicans will play a helping hand.)

How is the landscape changing for the Rileys? First, let's consider recent reports that Bob Riley has been subpoenaed to testify, by lawyers for gambling magnate Milton McGregor, in the federal bingo trial that begins Monday in Mongtomery. When I first heard about this, my reaction was, "Ah, he will get off and almost certainly will not be forced to testify. And even if he does take the stand, the judge is likely to sustain so many objections from government lawyers that nothing substantive will come from it." But I'm hearing that McGregor's lawyers performed some intriguing groundwork in preparing for the subpoena--and that Big Bob might have reason to be genuinely concerned. We will stay tuned.

Second, new governor Robert Bentley has ditched a $13 million, no-bid computer-services contract that went to a shadowy company called Paragon Source under the Riley administration. The company--which had no Web site, phone number, or business address--received $7 million before payments were stopped in fiscal 2010, according to a report in The Huntsville Times.  The mainstream press has largely taken a see-no-evil approach to the Riley clan, but reporter Bob Lowry is practicing some real journalism--and it will be interesting to see where it leads.

Even the Times' editorial page is asking questions about Teflon Bob and his gang of thugs:

When he first ran for governor, Riley repeatedly attacked Gov. Don Siegelman for his administration's fondness for no-bid state contracts. Additionally, Riley championed his efforts to improve government accountability and transparency as among his signal accomplishments.

Riley sent [finance director Bill] Newton, Riley Chief of Staff Dave Stewart and spokesman Jeff Emerson to meet with The Times' and Birmingham News' editorial boards in October 2009 to defend the contract from criticism.

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Newton said Paragon President Janet Lauderdale was uniquely qualified to do the work because she helped install the original computer system in the early 1990s and helped the state meet a tight deadline for revamping its payroll system in 2006. . . .

Lauderdale may have been uniquely qualified, as Newton insisted, but awarding a multimillion-dollar contract without bids based on the opinions of a few people in the Finance Department -- government by good old boy? -- is hardly the way to conduct state business.

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I live in Birmingham, Alabama, and work in higher education. I became interested in justice-related issues after experiencing gross judicial corruption in Alabama state courts. This corruption has a strong political component. The corrupt judges are (more...)

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