Federal probe of Alabama attorney general no shock to bloggers
Muriel Kane
Published: Thursday March 12, 2009

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When it was revealed on Monday that Alabama Attorney General Troy King is under federal investigation, his chief of staff, Chris Bence, described King as "shocked."

"This is pretty much quite a shock," Bench stated. "We are not aware that a grand jury of any kind was looking at anyone in our office."

The well-connected King is a former legal adviser to Alabama Governor Bob Riley, who appointed him to his current position in 2004. Until rumors about his personal life began circulating last summer, it had been widely expected that King himself would run for governor in 2010.

However, the most shocking thing about the investigation of King for bloggers who keep a close watch on the Alabama political scene may have been "that it took so long for someone to get around to investigating him."

Allegations of a political vendetta

According to the Birmingham News, at least six former employees of King's office were called before a federal grand jury in Montgomery last week and asked about "issues related to gambling," as well as the possibility that King might have used his office to investigate particular individuals on behalf of his political allies.

Sources familiar with the case told the News that the prosecutors appeared particularly interested in King's investigation of former Tuscaloosa City Councilman Jerry Plott. Plott has claimed that King began a vendetta against him after he opposed using public money to help a King ally, Tuscaloosa businessman Stan Pate, build a shopping center.

Pate has denied asking King for any favors, claiming that he merely took evidence of what he believed to be corruption on the part of Plott and others to US Attorney Alice Martin, who referred him to the attorney general's office.

However, a lengthy article which appeared at the Lagniappe Mobile Blog in 2007 suggests that Pate is far more deeply implicated that he has admitted. That article no longer appears to be available at its original source, but it can still be found at the Internet Archive.

According to writers Kevin Lee and Rob Holbert:

"Luther Stancel 'Stan' Pate IV is a businessman renowned in the Tuscaloosa suburb of Northport for his excitability and successful business acumen. Like other wealthy developers, he took a keen interest in politics and felt a 'hands on' approach best suited his needs and sometimes raised a few eyebrows. Pate held press conferences replete with thousands in cash as props to promote gambling initiatives. He was affiliated with an ad campaign to subvert Gov. Riley. Never hesitant to insert himself in public affairs, Pate even toyed with a candidacy for governor in 2002."

When Tuscaloosa Council President Jerry Plott and Councilman Kip Tyner refused in 2005 to appropriate $16 million in public funds for Pate's proposed shopping center, Pate launched a campaign to discredit both men. He filed ethics charges against them and even set up a website which asked readers to submit accounts of corruption on Plott's part.

"He never could get the ethics commission to give me any trouble. So then he decided to take it to his friend Troy King in the AG’s office," Plott told the Lagniappe Mobile reporters. "All of a sudden, I’d get inquiries from investigators from the AG’s office."

Plott wrote to King's office on June 28, 2005, saying, "Your office also recently investigated a complaint against me filed by Mr. Pate. I am concerned that Mr. Pate is attempting to use the Attorney General’s office, as he has used the Ethics Commission, to continue his personal vendetta against several members of the Tuscaloosa City Council."

Plott eventually decided to stop serving on the City Council, a decision which he bitterly blames on Pate's harrassment. King's investigation of Tyner apparently ceased following Plott's letter, but it resumed after King had won re-election in 2006, in a campaign to which Pate and the numerous state PACs with which he is connected contributed generously.

Suspected ethical violations pile up

By 2007, Alabama bloggers were starting to compile long lists of ethical questions concerning King. One blog, the Daily Dixie, even had an entire webpage devoted to them, titled Troy King's Greatest Hits -- a page which is now available only through the Internet Archive.

The charges included King's alleged use of his office both to attack his Democratic opponent in the 2006 election and to get back at a district attorney who had supported his opponent, his vendetta against a judge whose ruling on gambling machines he disliked, and his failure to report a gift of luxury box seats from Alabama Power. However, none of the allegations appeared to attract official interest.

Last July, however, even more scandalous rumors began circulating, claiming that the religiously conservative and overtly homophobic King had been caught by his wife in bed with a male aide. These rumors were fueled in part by a Birmingham News article, headed "AG King boosts top aides salaries," which reported:

"Not receiving raises has not been a problem for another King employee — 24-year-old John W. Godwin. Godwin started working in the attorneys general office as an unpaid intern last summer, when he was a senior at Troy University. Shortly after arriv­ing in Kings office, Godwin was put on the payroll at $10 an hour. Over the next nine months, Godwin rapidly ascended the ladder. In July 2007, King ap­pointed him as a special ad­ministrative assistant earning $39,456 a year. He completed his degree in broadcast jour­nalism in December, and on March 27 was named to his current title of executive assistant, a job paying $57,504 annually, according to state records. 'J.W. is an exceptional young man who is the chief aide to the attorney general and who is almost indispensable in terms of the many functions he carries out in this office,' [King spokesman Chris] Bence said."

For the next several days, rumors of King's impending resignation flew around the Internet. King refused to comment on the story either way and the rumors gradually died down. However, they were reignited in October, when reports that King was preparing to run for re-election as attorney general in 2010 -- rather than for governor, as had been anticipated -- raised suspicions that his political prospects had been been damaged by the scandal.

Why is King being investigated now?

As news of the federal investigation spread, theories about possible political motivations proliferated.

One fact which has attracted notice is that the US Attorney investigating King is Alice Martin, a Bush appointee who was the first US Attorney to bring federal charges against former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. Martin has expressed hopes of being kept on by the Obama administration, and a diarist at Daily Kos thought it possible that the investigation of King might be a bid for Democratic approval.

However, it's also conceivable that this could be Governor Riley's way of throwing King under the bus. When King was first appointed as attorney general in 2004, Alabama political columnist Steve Flowers suggested, "Most observers of the Governor's office and those who have dealt with the Governor come away feeling that Rob and Minda Riley are the powers behind the throne. The consensus is that these two Riley offspring make most of the calls and are the ones that Riley looks to for major decisions. A case in point is the recent appointment of young Troy King as Attorney General. Rob and Minda are said to be responsible for the choice of King."

One blogger who reported the rumor of a King homosexual affair last summer even wondered if Riley himself might have initiated the scandal, writing, "Some point the finger at Alabama Governor Bob Riley for starting the rumor. This makes sense seeing as Troy King is a potential gubernatorial candidate."

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