BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - July 5, 2018 UPDATE: It's been a morning on the defense for former State Representative Oliver Robinson.
He's testifying in the federal corruption trial involving Drummond Coal and two attorneys with Balch and Bingham.
Robinson earlier pleaded guilty to accepting $360,000 in bribes to work against expanding a superfund site in north Birmingham.
Defense attorneys say Robinson has lied at least 20 times while on the stand; they are attempting to show Robinson was only trying make money for himself, and that he lied to federal investigators to keep himself from going to prison.
Testimony is expected to continue for several days.
Disgraced former State Representative Oliver Robinson testified as the star witness for the prosecution about his confessed role in the federal corruption case involving Drummond Coal company.
Prosecutors laid out a series of emails and letters between Robinson and Balch and Bingham attorney Joel Gilbert, in which Robinson was instructed on how to convince people in the North Birmingham community to oppose becoming a Superfund site. That stipulation would bring in federal dollars in to clean up hazardous industrial contamination. A number of those emails were forwarded to officials at Drummond, including Vice President David Roberson. Robinson testified Joel Gilbert sent him talking points aimed at convincing members of the community, and even the activist group GASP, which petitioned the EPA to get involved, that Walter Coke should assume the sole responsibility for cleaning up contamination.
Another email sent on Dec. 11 showed that Gilbert informed Robinson Drummond had approved a request for $7,000 a month for robocalls, which Robinson testified his foundation had no capability of doing. Prosecutors setting it up that $7,000 as payment for Robinson's role in meetings with EPA officials, as well as GASP leaders, and the Environmental Management Commission.
One email letter outlined orders from Roberson, telling Gilbert that Robinson needed to get people in the community to oppose the superfund.
Now to the meetings with EPA officials - The court played a 30-minute recording Robinson captured on his iPhone, without the EPA officials' knowledge, in which they explained the importance of the Superfund site designation to bring federal and other agency money to the contaminated area to hold contaminators responsible for cleaning them up and how those funds were great motivators to get responsible companies to clean up these dumping sites and hazardous contaminated areas, but also could serve as momentum for the city to revitalize these communities for future generations. Robinson says he forwarded the recording to Gilbert, who then forwarded the recordings to a Drummond official.
There was no distinction in court over the voices in the recording meetings. One official explained the superfund helps by "engaging the community" by informing people about resources available, including healthcare, and also addresses what can be done while working with federal agencies. One EPA voice on the recording explained their goal is to make a "visible difference in communities impacted by contamination."
There was also a meeting with the Lawyer for GASP again recorded. Robinson wanted to meet with the executive director, who was not available because he testified Roberson was not happy with comments she made in petitioning the EPA's involvement. Then there was the letter requesting a meeting with the Environmental Management Commission in Montgomery, which Robinson copied onto his legislative letterhead, a letter he says Gilbert wrote, in which Robinson was described himself as representing the people of North Birmingham in their health and general welfare.
Before all the meetings, Robinson testified as the prosecution laid out emails with talking points from Gilbert, instructing him on what to ask and say, including implicating Coke as the responsible party that should assume responsibility for all of the cleanup, and that bringing in other companies would only serve to drag out the process for years. That same language was contained in three drafts of letters Robinson testified he was responsible for distributing to 100 homeowners and property owners to sign in opposition to the Superfund designation, saying it would grossly devalue their properties over a lengthy period while their health got worse. The letters were headed to the EPA before the deadline period for getting comments from the community and said Walter Coke Company should be made to clean up the contamination making people sick. Robinson says he was able to get just 93 signatures.
Gilbert's defense has said Robinson acted alone, but representatives for Drummond said they had no knowledge of the scheme. Robinson's testimony is part of a plea deal which he confessed to taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes.