Birmingham, Ala., Mayor Found Guilty Of Corruption
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
In Alabama, a federal jury has found the mayor of Birmingham guilty of accepting bribes. Jurors convicted Democrat Larry Langford on all 60 counts. He accepted $241,000 in cash and luxury goods. In exchange, Langford funneled millions of dollars in bond business to an investment banker.
Tanya Ott of member station WBHM joins us from Tuscaloosa. And Tanya, this case involves a lobbyist, an investment banker and Mayor Larry Langford. Can you walk us through what happened here?
TANYA OTT: Yeah. Melissa, it started several years ago when Langford was president of the Jefferson County Commission. Now, the government said that investment banker Bill Blount and lobbyist Al LaPierre, both prominent democrats here in Alabama, schemed to pay off Langford in exchange for Langford's efforts to steer county bond deals to Blount's firm. Those risky bond deals have plunged the county now into almost $4 billion in debt, and the county might go bankrupt.
BLOCK: And the banker and the lobbyist pleaded guilty before the trial testified against Mayor Langford. It sounds like his attorneys presented a shopaholic defense.
OTT: They did. The case started last Monday and was dominated by prosecution witnesses that testified that the mayor was deep in debt and that he had a passion for expensive clothes: Ferragamo and things like that. The money was used in part to pay off Langford's loans and to purchase pricey watches and designer suits.
The defense called just about a half dozen witnesses, but they did not call Langford. His attorneys contend Langford, Blount and LaPierre were longtime friends and had regularly given money and gifts to each other.
BLOCK: Now, jurors obviously didn't buy that defense. They convicted Mayor Langford on all 60 counts. What did he say after this verdict?
OTT: Well, Mayor Langford and his wife Melva struck back immediately after the verdict. They blame the Justice Department, which indicted him under the Bush administration. They also said they weren't very happy with the jury. This is what they had to say.
Mayor LARRY LANGFORD (Birmingham, Alabama): When they went upstairs to strike the jury, they struck as many blacks off that jury as they possibly could. You know, and this (unintelligible) a jury of my peers.
Ms. MELVA LANGFORD: A black man cannot get a fair trial. That's been for eons. And when you have a whole organization like the Justice Department, they are conspiring and have been working hard to hurt my husband over the years.
BLOCK: Tanya, what happened next for Larry Langford?
OTT: Well, Larry Langford was immediately removed as mayor of Birmingham the minute the conviction came down. He's going to be sentenced a couple months from now. They say it could take three to four months. His sentence, Melissa, 805 years in prison is what's possible.
BLOCK: That's what's possible. It could be less than that, obviously, 'cause those would be consecutive sentences.
BLOCK: One interesting detail from this trial, Tanya, at least one, that Larry Langford's defense attorney made some interesting style choices in the courtroom. Tell us about that.
(Soundbite of laughter)
OTT: He did. Well, Mike Rasmussen, the lead defense attorney is a pretty understated guy, but midway through closing arguments today, he pulled out of a bag a jacket that had a gold lame lapel and it had 100 dollar bills printed all over it. And he put that jacket on and he said that he was the $7 million man, referring, of course, to Bill Blount the investment banker. He said that he would sprinkle money all around - giving a little bit to Langford just to keep him on the line so Langford would play along.
BLOCK: Okay, Tanya, thanks very much.
OTT: Thank you.
BLOCK: That's Tanya Ott of member station WBHM. She joined us from the studios of Alabama Public Radio in Tuskalusa.
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