ATHENS — Jurors in Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely’s trial heard Friday about jail inmates helping renovate a private business whose owner helped Blakely in a financial pinch.
Friday was the 10th day of Blakely’s trial on 10 felony counts and one misdemeanor count of theft and ethics violations, and the fifth day of testimony. The trial will resume Monday.
Brad Pullum, a real estate agent, helped Blakely sell his parents’ house and helped him get two loans totaling over $72,000 in 2015, according to testimony. Inmates from Blakely’s Limestone County Jail helped renovate a building for Pullum.
Pullum formerly worked for Blakely in the jail and as an investigator, but he later lost a race against Blakely for sheriff.
Blakely told him his “ass was in a sling” because he owed somebody money, Pullum said. He didn’t know whom Blakely was referring to at the time, but later he learned about Paul “Tall Paul” Anderson.
Anderson had testified Thursday that he loaned Blakely $30,000 cash on a handshake so that Blakely could reimburse the county in 2014 after being overpaid.
The $50,000 for one loan to Blakely came from Tong Shen Chiou, a retired pharmacist. Chiou testified Friday that he made the loan because Pullum asked him to. Chiou referred to himself as a “generous” man.
Pullum testified he created HiGo LLC along with his adult daughter, Shelby Pullum, and Chiou. Pullum said his daughter was a silent partner, and Chiou testified that he provided money but Pullum ran the business. Chiou said he put more than $750,000 into HiGo.
HiGo’s plan — still not accomplished — was to help Taiwan and other countries obtain weapons and submarines, as well as operating a firing range and a gun store and manufacturing silencers. Pullum wanted to renovate a former dialysis center in Athens, lining one room with lead sheets to make HiGo communications secure.
Pullum said he asked Blakely to get jail inmates to help with the renovations. Three inmates did so, and HiGo paid them $10 an hour.
But Pullum said he had no workers’ compensation insurance on them. Later, Bill Daws, former jail work-release supervisor, testified that this insurance would have been required had they been on work release, which they were not.
He said the work-release program requires formal agreements signed by inmates and employers. The jury was shown jail regulations for inmate labor that didn’t seem to provide a category matching the HiGo arrangement.
Michael Vance, one of the three inmates, testified that he worked at HiGo for 2 1/2 or three months. Vance was serving time in the jail after being convicted of murdering his wife. He said he could have refused to do the HiGo work and did not feel pressured. When he was released from jail, he received all of his HiGo money.
The renovations were never completed, Chiou said.
Pullum also helped Chiou obtain a pistol permit from Blakely’s office and designation as an honorary deputy sheriff.
Defense attorneys got several witnesses to agree that their dealings with Blakely were personal, that they weren’t dealing with him as sheriff but as a friend.
With the jury out of the room, lawyers and the judge discussed a situation that could derail at least one of the counts against Blakely.
Judge Pamela Baschab scheduled a hearing for 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday regarding a receipt that shows Blakely repaid more than $900 after a 2014 trip to Las Vegas that is the basis for some of his charges.
Prosecutors said they haven’t found the receipt in subpoenaed documents that they received. It surprised them when it came up in testimony by Debbie Davis, Blakely’s chief clerk. Prosecutors asked for time to search records, including those at the Attorney General’s Office in Montgomery.
Assistant Attorney General Clark Morris said the problem could cause dismissal of one of the counts against Blakely or a change in the prosecution strategy.
“Judge, we strongly deny that anybody tried to withhold this,” defense attorney Robert Tuten said. He noted that the receipt would help Blakely’s case. He showed other records supporting the receipt.
Morris said prosecutors would look bad if they had to “dismiss a count in the middle of trial.”
Tuten countered that “this is supposed to be a search for truth, your honor, and a search for justice.”
Baschab ruled Friday on a question that came up Thursday, finding that Investigator Jeff Kilpatrick’s testimony Wednesday was “not affected by any alleged intimidation.”
The trial will start at 1 p.m. on Monday, later than usual. Baschab told the jury that there was other business to tend to.