On the day after Christmas, 2014, a state helicopter left Montgomery for Tuscaloosa with a mission — to retrieve the wallet of Gov. Robert Bentley and deliver it to him in Gulf Shores.
According to flight logs, that helicopter, which belonged to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, would spend four hours in the air making the round trip to the governor’s home, to the coast and back again — a flight that would potentially cost thousands of dollars if done by a private charter service.
It all began with a fight the governor had with his wife.
On Tuesday, the political blog Yellowhammer News reported that Bentley had stormed out of his Tuscaloosa home after an argument with then-First Lady Dianne Bentley. From there he left to his beach home in Gulf Shores, only to realize he’d left his wallet behind when he arrived. Bentley then contacted his dignitary protection detail to have them deliver his wallet to him.
That account is more or less consistent with what sources had relayed in recent weeks to AL.com. Those sources also requested anonymity for fear of personal or professional reprisals.
However, some details among the accounts differed. Most said the fight occurred either late last spring or early summer. After Yellowhammer published its story on Tuesday, ALEA confirmed that such an incident had occurred, but in December 2014, rather than last summer.
ALEA flight logs appear to support this version of the story, at least in regard to timing. Those records show that on December 26, 2014, an ALEA helicopter left Montgomery for Tuscaloosa and then flew from Tuscaloosa to Gulf Shores. A notation in that flight log says “Picked up package in Tuscaloosa delivered to Governor @JKA.”
The University of Alabama made three payments totaling $29,000 to a company founded and operated by Jon Mason – the husband of Rebekah Caldwell Mason, former top aide to Gov. Robert Bentley – last month.
The March 22 payments, which were first reportedWednesday morning by Alabama Political Reporter, were made via PayPal to Jon Mason’s Tuscaloosa-based advertising, marketing and design company, JRM Enterprises.
They come on the heels of two payments totaling $45,450 that UA made to JRM in February, as AL.com revealed last month.
Mike Lewis, a spokesperson for Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange told AL.com Wednesday the office cannot comment on potential or ongoing investigations. Lewis pointed a statement Strange made on March 24, the day after Bentley admitted to making “inappropriate comments” to Mason, a married mother of three.
“In light of the accusations of potential wrongdoing that have been made… and the numerous inquiries that my office has received, I would like to assure the public that the Attorney General’s Office takes very seriously any allegations involving potential criminal misconduct. My office has a strong record of probing illegal activity in this state and we will continue to do our job,” Strange said.
Bentley and Mason are already the subjects of ethics complaints alleging misuse of state resources and personnel.
Sources told AL.com the criminal investigation is likely looking at both allegations, specifically if ALEA personnel was used to provide services, such as security or transportation, to Mason. The investigation also covers any possible altering of records or other steps by employees of the governor’s office to cover up the relationship.
Private adoption agencies in Alabama could turn away gay couples on religious grounds under a bill passed by a House Committee Wednesday.
The House Health Committee voted on Wednesday to move the Alabama Child Care Provider Inclusion Act to the House floor. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Rich Wingo, R-Tuscaloosa, would allow adoption or foster placement agencies to deny services and protect those agencies from state discipline like withholding licenses.
Homosexuality or same-sex marriage is not specifically mentioned in the bill, but its supporters say recent national- and state-level court decisions “redefining marriage” catalyzed the legislation.
“They believe one man and one woman is a family. It would be offensive to their religious beliefs to place a child in a same-sex or polygamous home,” said Eric Johnston, a Birmingham attorney who worked on the legislation with conservative interdenominational group ALCAP.
The civil rights organization Human Rights Campaign opposes the bill. In a statement released after the House vote, HRC said the bill could lead to discrimination against “interfaith couples, single parents, married couples in which one prospective parent has previously been divorced” in addition to same-sex couples.
“With an estimated 5,000 children in Alabama’s foster care system, lawmakers seem focused on enshrining discrimination rather than allowing these kids the opportunity to find the loving homes they all desperately need,” said Ben Needham, director of HRC’s Project One America, in an emailed statement.
When asked if Wingo’s bill could be used to deny services to a straight couple who had been divorced, Johnston said faith-based agencies have always had “certain standards they set.”
But these agencies should be able to not place children if they don’t want to.
According to a new report by the nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center titled “The Trump Effect: The Impact of the Presidential Campaign on our Nation’s Schools,” the race is stoking fears and racial tensions in America’s classrooms.
“My students are terrified of Donald Trump. They think that if he’s elected, all black people will get sent back to Africa,” one middle school teacher told the SPLC. The teacher was one of more than 2,000 educators who opted to take a survey conducted through the SPLC’s “Teaching Tolerance” program.
“I have had Muslim students called terrorists,” said another teacher who submittedcomments to the survey.
I am more afraid of this teacher than Donald Trump.
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