For the next two years, former Morgan County Sheriff Ana Franklin is prohibited from possessing firearms, must get prior approval before leaving north Alabama and is bound by numerous other conditions under the terms of a probation order issued Monday.
Also, a different federal judge presiding over a civil case against Franklin suggested in a recent order that a 3-year-old lawsuit against Franklin and her former deputies by blogger and Falkville businesswoman Glenda Lockhart may be close to settling.
Franklin pleaded guilty to the federal misdemeanor charge of willful failure to file a tax return in January and was sentenced Thursday in Huntsville by U.S. Magistrate Judge Herman Johnson Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.
Johnson sentenced her to two years of probation and 300 hours of community service. He also ordered that she file amended tax returns for 2014, 2015 and 2016. Monday’s order outlined other restrictions.
Among the conditions of Franklin’s probation:
• “You must not own, possess, or have access to a firearm, ammunition, destructive device or dangerous weapon … .”
• “You must not knowingly leave the federal judicial district where you are authorized to reside without first getting permission from the court or probation officer.”
Franklin, 55, did not seek a third term as sheriff and in January was succeeded by Ron Puckett. She now works for Texas-based NCIC Inmate Communications selling inmate communication equipment and information technology programs for jails and prisons. In a letter to the judge requesting leniency for her, NCIC’s director of sales Frances Schultz wrote, “Her work includes travel to various states around the country calling on sheriff’s departments and attending conferences. I would humbly request that she be allowed to continue to do her job.”
• “You must work full time (at least 30 hours per week) at a lawful type of employment … .”
• “You must allow the probation officer to visit you at any time at your home or elsewhere … .”
• “You must not unlawfully possess a controlled substance.”
• “You must refrain from any unlawful use of a controlled substance.” The judge waived a typical probation requirement that she undergo drug testing “based upon the court’s determination that you pose a low risk of future substance abuse.”
• “You must not communicate or interact with someone you know is engaged in criminal activity,” or with a convicted felon absent advance notice to the probation officer.
• “You must live in a place approved by the probation officer. If you plan to change where you live or anything about your living arrangements (such as the people you live with), you must notify the probation officer at least 10 days before the change.”
Franklin said Tuesday via text she had not seen the probation conditions. She declined to comment after The Decatur Daily forwarded her a copy of the order. Her lawyer, William Gray of Birmingham, also said Tuesday he had not seen the order and declined to comment until he could review it.
The charge against Franklin focused on her failure to file personal income taxes for 2015. It was in June 2015 that Franklin removed $160,000 from the Morgan County Sheriff's Office Food Account at Peoples Bank and loaned $150,000 to Priceville Partners LLC, a title loan and used car business. Priceville Partners declared bankruptcy in March 2016.
In a letter to the judge, accountant David Scott said he met with Franklin in 2017 and she “had failed to file her tax returns mainly because she really didn’t know how to treat the reporting of the jail food money. According to what she believed and understood, no taxable event had occurred because she had not kept and retained the money for personal use.”
Franklin’s dealings with Priceville Partners also accelerated conflicts between the then-sheriff and Lockhart, a blogger who for years was an outspoken critic of the Franklin administration. That dispute ended up in federal court after Franklin and her deputies obtained a search warrant for Lockhart’s business and computers on the grounds that she allegedly had received confidential Sheriff’s Office documents from former jail Warden Leon Bradley, whose home also was searched.
Both Lockhart and Bradley filed suit, alleging among other things that Franklin and her deputies obtained the search warrants fraudulently and that the warrants were executed as retaliation against Lockhart’s blog.
In an order last month, U.S. District Judge Madeline Haikala suggested the case, which has been in mediation since May, may be close to a resolution.
“The Court has received notice that the parties have reached a settlement agreement in this action. On or before October 31, 2019, the parties shall please file a joint stipulation of dismissal or a joint report updating the Court on the status of the settlement,” according to Haikala’s order. The judge also denied several pretrial motions as moot "consistent with the parties' settlement."
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last month upheld a ruling by Haikala denying governmental immunity from Lockhart's claims for Franklin and former deputies Robert Wilson and Blake Robinson.
Franklin’s lawyer declined to discuss the possibility of a settlement.
“We’ve been in mediation, and we really can’t discuss it. Anything and everything discussed in mediation is required by the judge to remain confidential,” Gray said Tuesday.