Morgan County District 3 Commissioner Don Stisher on Monday pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor campaign-finance violation after admitting he deposited two $1,000 campaign contributions into his personal bank account.
At a 12-minute hearing in Morgan Circuit Court on Monday afternoon, just hours after his arrest, Stisher was fined $2,000 and placed on one year of supervised probation for knowing conversion of campaign funds to personal use. Upon paying the fine and court costs his probation will become unsupervised. Failure to pay the fine would have resulted in a sentence of 365 days in the Morgan County Jail.
State prosecutors charged Stisher with the felony of intentionally using campaign contributions for personal use and not reporting them. A Morgan County grand jury indicted Stisher in October on the charge presented by Assistant Attorney General Kyle Beckman. An arrest warrant was served Monday morning, and Stisher was released on his own recognizance.
At the hearing Monday, Beckman told the judge the state agreed to reduce the charge for a guilty plea.
In Judge Jennifer Howell’s courtroom Monday, Stisher acknowledged accepting $2,000 in unreported campaign contributions and placing the money in his personal account rather than his 2016 campaign account.
“It wasn’t intentional on my part,” Stisher said. “It was an oversight on my campaign that I’m responsible for. I’ve been upfront with authorities. When the mistake was discovered, I amended my report and haven’t tried to hide anything. I apologize to the people (of this county) and thank them for their past support and hope they’ll continue to support me.”
In the plea agreement, signed by Stisher, the commissioner said he reimbursed the $2,000 to his campaign account in March 2018, after being notified that the Alabama Ethics Commission was investigating him.
Late Monday afternoon, Stisher said he had paid the $2,000 fine and $364 in court costs.
In the plea agreement, the state and Stisher stipulate that Stisher accepted checks of $1,000 each from the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce and Mobile-based Volkert Engineering in late 2015 and failed to report them as campaign contributions.
"Stisher deposited both checks into his personal bank account rather than his campaign account. Stisher then spent the funds on personal expenses unrelated to his campaign," according to a stipulation signed by Stisher.
The month after receiving the money from Volkert, Stisher along with the three other Morgan commissioners voted to pay Volkert $16,111 for program management services for the Morgan County Jail expansion. It was payment No. 28 of 40, Commission Chairman Ray Long said. At the same meeting, the commission approved invoices totaling $1,750 to Volkert for services related to the bridge replacement project on Kirby Bridge Road, which is in districts 1 and 2. Volkert received a total of $451,110 between 2013 and 2017 in project management fees for its work on the jail.
The Secretary of State’s Office found the discrepancy in 2018 and forwarded the information to the Alabama Ethics Commission. The ethics panel investigated and turned the case over to the state Attorney General’s Office.
Stisher’s attorney, Jacob Roberts, said the word "intentional" was pivotal in the plea deal.
“Intentional is the key word and is the difference between a felony and misdemeanor. My client’s actions were unintentional," Roberts said.
According to the grand jury indictment, Stisher “did intentionally convert to personal use contributions to an office holder, a candidates or a public official’s inaugural or transitional fund.”
Long said Stisher’s case “is a personal matter and has no effect on the County Commission and its business.”
Stisher, a Republican, has qualified to run in 2020 for a sixth term as commissioner. Morgan County school board member Paul Holmes of Eva is challenging him for the District 3 seat in the March 3 GOP primary.
As commissioner, Stisher is paid $80,291.22 annually.