Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely was arrested today after being indicted on 13 theft and ethics charges, Attorney General Steve Marshall announced.
Blakely, 68, surrendered to Limestone County authorities today and was released on $49,000 bond, Marshall's office said. Blakely, a Democrat sworn in as sheriff in 1983, began his 10th consecutive term in January.
Limestone County Sheriff's Office spokesman Stephen Young said in a press conference this afternoon that Blakely returned to his duties as sheriff after posting bond.
Four of the counts by a Limestone County grand jury charge Blakely with $11,000 in thefts from his campaign account, according to the attorney general. Five other counts charge him with theft and ethics crimes stemming from his taking money from Limestone County funds, including from the Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Fund.
Blakely was also charged with soliciting a $1,000 wire transfer from a subordinate other than in the ordinary course of business, according to Marshall's statement.
He was also charged with two counts of using his official position or office to acquire interest-free loans. In one of those counts, he is charged with using his official position or office to obtain interest-free loans in the form of a $50,000 cashier’s check and/or a $22,189.68 credit, according to Marshall's office. In the other he was charged with using his official position or office to obtain interest-free loans by taking money from a safe that was used to store the Limestone County inmates’ personal funds.
“Public officials are entrusted to perform their duties honestly and above reproach,” Marshall said in a written statement. “When that bond of trust is broken, our society suffers undue harm."
Young said Blakely was at work today.
"A grand jury indictment is not a conviction," Young said. "In fact, it's the process typically used when an agency cannot obtain enough probable cause to get its own warrant. Sheriff Blakely once told me, and I quote, 'You can indict a ham sandwich,' " Young said at the press conference.
Young said the Sheriff's Office is like a family.
"This affects us all, but we remain united in our mission to serve the great people of this county with our very best, and we will continue to do so come hell or high water," Young said.
While Young said Blakely remained on duty today, he declined to speculate on whether Blakely would remain in office during the pendency of the case.
Marshall said the Attorney General's Office is working with the the Federal Bureau of Investigation on the case.
"While the overwhelming majority of public officials serve honorably, those who corrupt the operations of government rob their communities — their friends and neighbors — of the fundamental right to honest government, and we must insist on absolute honesty, integrity and trustworthiness from everyone,” said FBI Birmingham Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp Jr. in a joint statement with Marshall.
The case is being prosecuted by the Attorney General’s Special Prosecutions Division.
In October, the Alabama Ethics Commission found probable cause that Blakely violated the state’s ethics law and voted to refer the case to the state Attorney General’s Office for further investigation, Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton said at the time.
Blakely's lawyer, Dan Totten, did not immediately return calls today. In October, in response to the Ethics Commission's action, he said his client was “a person of great character and his impeccable reputation is evidence of this."
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."
Limestone County Commission Chairman Collin Daly declined to comment on the allegations of the indictment.
"The main concern of the commission is the safety of the county," Daly said in a written statement. "The commission has the utmost confidence in our Sheriff's Department that they will continue to keep our county as one of the safest in the state of Alabama."
Blakely is also a defendant in a federal civil lawsuit file in January by Limestone County Sheriff's Office Investigator Leslie Ramsey. She alleged Chief Deputy Fred Sloss inappropriately touched and propositioned her, and that Blakely retaliated against her when she complained. She alleged Sloss had her followed after she left the sheriff's rodeo in May 2017. Blakely reprimanded her in connection with her involvement in the rodeo, according to the lawsuit, called her "a bad apple," told her she needed a psychiatrist and threatened to fire her, according to the complaint.
Blakely and Sloss denied the allegations.
Blakely's office also came under scrutiny by the U.S. Department of Labor, which cited the office for overtime violations. The Limestone County Commission in February agreed to pay $49,968 in back wages to 126 Sheriff’s Office employees for the alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The allegations centered on uncompensated hours spent by deputies at the sheriff's rodeo and when filing warrants outside their normal working hours.