A 13-count ethics and theft indictment against Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely made no mention of gambling activities, but a brief filed by prosecutors last week directly ties two charges to gambling at Mississippi and Las Vegas casinos.
The issue came up in a discovery dispute. Blakely’s lawyers filed a motion complaining that prosecutors had responded to their request for information with a digital “document dump” that was equivalent to more than 60,000 pages. In response, Assistant Attorney General Kyle Beckman noted that most of the documents were searchable, that most came from Blakely’s files, and that they were divided into folders to make reviewing them easier.
It was in the discussion of those folders that the state made clear that at least two of the felony counts were connected to Blakely’s alleged gambling activities.
One folder, Beckman wrote, is “the Beau Rivage folder for gambling records that correspond with an August 2016 wire transfer.” Beau Rivage is a casino in Biloxi, Mississippi. The "Beau Rivage Casino" folder provided to Blakely's lawyers has 134 pages, according to the brief.
The Beau Rivage documents relate to count 11 of the indictment, a felony charge of soliciting a thing of value from a subordinate. The indictment alleges that a “subordinate or person with whom he directly inspects, regulates, or supervises in his official capacity” wired $1,000 to Blakely on Aug. 17, 2016.
Another folder, according to Beckman’s brief, is “the Palace Station folder for records for hotel and gambling activities that correspond with a December 2015 wire transfer.” Palace Station is a hotel and casino in Las Vegas. The "Palace Casino, Las Vegas" folder includes 18 pages of documents, according to the brief.
The Palace Station documents relate to count eight of the indictment, charging the sheriff with use of his official position or office for personal gain. This count alleges a Limestone County Sheriff’s Office employee on Dec. 9, 2015, wired $1,000 to Blakely, “a family member, or a business with which he is associated.”
The wire transfers, according to Beckman’s brief, were made through Western Union.
Blakely’s lawyers, Robert Tuten and Mark McDaniel, were both out of town Tuesday and unavailable for comment, according to their staffs. Beckman and an Attorney General's Office spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment.
While not mentioned in the indictment, there are other indications that Blakely or a family member engaged in gaming activities.
On May 31, 2018, Blakely amended his 2016 Alabama Ethics Commission Statement of Economic Interests to report "more than $250,000" in household income from "TN Lottery and gaming establishments."
On the same day, he amended his 2017 Statement of Economic Interests to report $50,000 to $150,000 in household earnings from "gaming establishments."
His 2018 ethics disclosure, filed in May of this year, reported $50,000 to $150,000 in winnings from "gaming institute," and $1,000 to $10,000 from "LA. Racing Commission," with the income described as "race horse."
Beckman’s brief also gives other hints as to what the state hopes to prove in the prosecution of Blakely.
One of the counts in the indictment, for example, alleges Blakely used his position to obtain two interest-free loans or credits totaling $72,189.68.
Beckman argues that “Blakely knows precisely what this count relates to; he told multiple witnesses that the State would be asking them about these transactions and the events that led to them. In fact, Blakely told at least one witness why he received this money so that the witness would ‘understand’ when he or she was questioned by law enforcement about the matter.”
Another count alleges Blakely took interest-free loans from a safe that held money belonging to Limestone County inmates.
In the brief, Beckman notes that Blakely later wrote checks from his personal bank account “to repay the loans he took from the safe when he lacked money.”
Among the folders Beckman said were included in discovery provided to Blakely’s lawyers were ones from Alabama Realtors, Austin Hinds Motors and Red Brick Strategies. Red Brick, based in Huntsville, is a public relations firm that won an award for its "Sheriff Mike Blakely Gets Things Done" campaign ad in 2015.
All three companies gave “Blakely’s campaign money that Blakely then stole,” according to Beckman’s brief.
The state also turned over 44 pages of documents in a folder labeled "Fred Sloss," according to Beckman's brief. Sloss is Blakely's chief deputy. Both are defendants in a federal lawsuit filed this year by since-fired Limestone County investigator Leslie Ramsey claiming Sloss assaulted her and Blakely retaliated against her when she complained. Sloss and Blakely denied the claims.
The Attorney General’s Office on Monday also filed a response to a motion by Blakely that sought to dismiss the indictment as being based on an unconstitutional state ethics law.
“The Ethics Act is unconstitutionally vague as charged in the indictment," Blakely’s lawyers asserted in the motion. "The sections of the Ethics Act charged in the indictment, and therefore the indictment itself, are void for vagueness.”
Blakely's attorneys said he is charged with five counts of using his official position or office for personal gain.
“Nowhere in the statute does it specify what conduct is prohibited,” the motion reads. “Nor does it specifically explain the term 'using' or 'personal gain.' "
The motion states that Blakely is also charged with soliciting “a thing of value from a subordinate,” while the lawyers maintain “this statute does not specifically explain what conducts are prohibited and leaves it to a best guess as to what 'solicitation' and 'thing of value' mean."
The state was dismissive of Blakely’s arguments, noting that numerous courts have upheld the constitutionality of the Alabama Ethics Act, that “there is nothing vague about prohibitions against using your official position to steal money or soliciting money from subordinates,” and that the argument that the ethics law is unclear “does not apply to a sheriff who has been enforcing the law for 36 years and now claims the law cannot be understood.”
“Defendant Blakely is not the first public official, when confronted with criminal charges, to ask a court to strike down the cornerstone laws that protect citizens from graft, corruption and dishonest government,” Beckman wrote.