Larry Langford federal corruption trial
The Larry Langford federal corruption trial (formally United States of America v. Larry P. Langford) was a federal trial accusing former Jefferson County Commission president Larry Langford of violating federal securities laws in his dealings with Al LaPierre and William B. Blount while he was a member of the Commission. The charges arose from a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation of Jefferson County's series of bond swaps between 2003 and 2006.
On April 30, 2008 SEC attorneys accused Langford of accepting more than $150,000 in money and benefits from Blount and LaPierre in exchange for steering the county's bond business to Blount's firm. On December 1 Langford was arrested at his office at Birmingham Budweiser by FBI agents. The 101-count indictment accused him of accepting bribes from Al LaPierre and William Blount in June 2003, while serving as president of the County Commission. He is also accused of engaging in a conspiracy with the other defendants to enable and conceal the alleged bribes. Additional counts allege that mail and wire fraud were committed in the furtherance of the conspiracy and that Langford falsified his income tax returns.
Langford, who was named in 60 counts, pleaded not guilty and was released on a $50,000 bond and required to stay within the Northern Judicial District of Alabama. In March 2009 an official with the Environmental Protection Agency placed Langford's name on the "Excluded Parties List", meaning that he was barred from conducting official business with federal agencies. He requested that the Birmingham City Council allow department heads to sign contracts with federal agencies on behalf of the city.
Both LaPierre and Blount made plea deals with prosecutors, leaving Langford as the sole remaining defendant. He rejected a plea offer which would have required him to admit having abused his power as a public official and to serve a sentence of less than five years. The trial was postponed twice (to August 25 and then to October 19, 2009) and moved to Tuscaloosa Federal Court to give the defense more time to prepare their case. On the eve of the trial a prayer vigil was held outside Birmingham City Hall. Organized by Frank Matthews, it was led by Reverend Calvin Woods who told the small crowd of supporters and onlookers that Langford was "anointed from God to lead this city."
- Monday, October 19: Jury selection was completed. Oral motions by the defense for a change of venue and to sequester the jury were denied.
- Tuesday, October 20: The prosecution and defense made opening statements. Prosecutor George Martin outlined the 60 counts in the indictment and introduced the case that Langford openly practiced a "pay to play" scheme, accepting expensive gifts from Blount in order to ensure that suspect financial deals being negotiated with Wall Street financiers would provide him lucrative benefits. The defense portrayed Blount as a manipulator who preyed on Langford's weakness for expensive clothes, his distaste for the details of financial management, and his innocent desire to lower costs for sewer ratepayers. The court heard testimony from Remon Danforah that Blount paid off Langford's accounts at Remon's and from Steve Sayler that Langford understood the types of deals being negotiated.
- Wednesday, October 21: Sayler's testimony continued, detailing the procedure for drafting and approving agreements, but indicating he had little knowledge of Blount's role or payments to him. Langford's secretary Terri Hatcher and various clothiers testified about Langford's New York shopping habits and a banker from Lehman Brothers testified that Blount had claimed to control three votes on the Jefferson County Commission.
- Thursday, October 22: William Blount testified to his guilty plea for bribing Langford and described purchases and payments he made on Langford's behalf. On cross-examination he admitted that there was no explicit arrangement to exchange such gifts for specific actions.
- Friday, October 23: Blount continued testifying, saying that Langford had influence over which banks would be involved in bond work and that that was his motivation. Al LaPierre took the stand for the rest of the day, explaining how he made Langford's desires known to Blount and handled payments as he lobbied the Commission. He admitted never informing Langford directly of the source of the money, but assumed that Blount's role was obvious. He also stated that all three participated in a cover-up, recasting the payments as loans, during the SEC's investigation.
- Monday, October 26: Norm Davis, an NBC Bank executive testified about the circumstances surrounding a personal loan given to Langford shortly after his bank was hired as financial advisors to the county. Despite enormous personal debts and a perilously low credit score, Langford was given a credit card with a $25,000 limit that was later increased before being changed into a loan. Prosecutors also read into evidence excerpts from Langford's statements in his SEC deposition which contradicted trial testimony from Blount and LaPierre.
- Tuesday, October 27: IRS auditor Joe Elliot testified about Langford's unreported income and taxes owed. The defense called six witnesses to testify about Langford's character and to further support their case that Langford and Blount exchanged gifts as friends with no agreement to impact the county's business or give work to Blount's firm.
- October 28: Closing arguments took up the morning session. Judge Coogler provided jurors with extensive instructions for their deliberations. After less than two hours, the jury returned guilty verdicts for all 60 counts. Langford was ordered to surrender guns and passport and allowed to leave pending sentencing. Upon conviction, Birmingham City Council president Carole Smitherman assumed the duties of acting mayor.
Langford and his wife, Melva Langford addressed reporters after the decision was announced, angrily denouncing the media and the state's justice system for making it impossible for Langford to receive what they would consider a fair trial. He pledged to pursue an appeal. A few days later Frank Matthews announced a campaign to urge federal authorities to overturn the decision or commute his eventual sentence.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons assigned him to serve his sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution Ashland in Eastern Kentucky.
- Wolfson, Hannah (December 19, 2007) "Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford believes he's the target of a federal criminal investigation." Birmingham News
- Walton, Val (December 1, 2008) "Feds unseal 101-count indictment charging Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford, William Blount and Al LaPierre." Birmingham News
- Gordon, Robert K. (August 21, 2009) "Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford's trial moved to Tuscaloosa, delayed." Birmingham News
- Hubbard, Russell (October 18, 2009) "Larry Langford trial: Mayor, federal prosecutors square off over bribery charges." Birmingham News
- Gordon, Robert K. (October 18, 2009) "Larry Langford trial: Prosecution team experienced in white-collar cases." Birmingham News
- Dean, Chuck (October 18, 2009) "Larry Langford trial: Vigil for mayor ends with prayers." Birmingham News
- Whitmire, Kyle (October 20, 2009) "High stakes and cheapskates" Birmingham Weekly
- Whitmire, Kyle (October 26, 2009) "Langford’s finances exposed in court." Birmingham Weekly
- Whitmire, Kyle (October 29, 2009) "The Trial and Tribulation of Larry Langford" Birmingham Weekly
- Hubbard, Russell (October 29, 2009) "Langford guilty: Mayor convicted on all 60 counts." Birmingham News
- Spencer, Thomas (November 1, 2009) "Larry Langford trial reflects tragic personal flaws." Birmingham News
- Bryant, Joseph D. (November 3, 2009) "Former Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford rejected plea deal before trial, attorney confirms." Birmingham News
- Taibbi, Matt (March 31, 2010) "Looting Main Street: How the nation's biggest banks are ripping off American cities with the same predatory deals that brought down Greece." Rolling Stone