AUGUST 04, 2009
Charged with more than 100 federal counts, the mayor of Alabama’s largest city could be closer to having a new home behind bars now that the lobbyist who bribed him has pleaded guilty and will testify at the mayor’s upcoming corruption trial.
In December Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford was arrested and slapped with a 101-count indictment accusing him of receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to steer lucrative public contracts to his friends. A heavyweight in the local Democratic Party, Langford is a former Jefferson County commissioner who wielded tremendous power countywide, even after leaving the post to head a single municipality in its jurisdiction.
Federal prosecutors say the influential mayor accepted more than $236,000 in jewelry, fancy clothes and cash from friends seeking county business. Among the crimes he his charged with are conspiracy, bribery, fraud, money laundering and filing false income taxes. The local newspaper has documented the veteran politician’s corruption, including a link to the federal indictment, in a series called the Langford Files.
The series includes a piece detailing how the mayor’s bond and swap deals with a Montgomery investment banker contributed to Jefferson County’s financial crisis. Thanks to the shady deals the county owes $3.2 billion in sewer debt it can’t repay, while more than two dozen swap transactions—which were supposed to save the county money—are now $430 million in debt.
Langford has steadfastly maintained his innocence and his trial is scheduled to begin at the end of this month. The recent guilty plea of the lobbyist who bribed him will undoubtedly throw a wrench in his story. The lobbyist, former Alabama Democratic Party Director Al LaPierre, admitted being the middle man in a bribery scheme that routed cash to the mayor from an investment banker who got millions of dollars in bond work from the county. The banker (Bill Blount) is the state’s onetime Democratic Party chairman.
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