Bentley resigns, pleads guilty to 2 misdemeanors
MONTGOMERY, AL (WBRC) - Alabama's 53rd governor, Robert Julian Bentley, has resigned from office amidst allegations he covered up an affair with an aide and has plead guilty to misdemeanor charges in relation to those allegations.
Bentley was booked into the Montgomery County jail after 4 p.m. on two charges: Failing to File a Major Contribution Report and Knowingly Converting Campaign Contributions to Personal Use.
When he appeared in a courtroom just before 5 p.m., the plea agreement was revealed. The former governor will be required to pay $2,000 in fines plus court costs, reimburse his campaign fund more than $8,000 one week from today (April 17), and must surrender all campaign funds to the state of Alabama, an amount said to be just less than $37,000.
In addition, he must serve 100 hours of volunteer service as a doctor, will never again be able to run for office in the state, and will waive his state retirement benefits.
Bentley pleaded guilty to the two charges and the judge sentenced him to two 30 day sentences which would run concurrently before suspending the sentence. This means Bentley will serve no time in jail.
Bentley spoke to media at the Old House Chamber in Montgomery a little after 5 p.m. Monday. He read a prepared statement where he apologized to the people of the state and said it was time for him to step down and look for other ways to serve the people of the state.
Bentley's resignation comes in the wake of impeachment hearings as well as a report released Friday detailing the alleged affair with his aide, Rebekah Caldwell Mason. Now that he has stepped down, those impeachment proceedings are no longer necessary.
Several members of the Alabama Republican Party, including its Steering Committee, called on Bentley to resign before Monday's hearings began.
LINK: Timeline on the Bentley saga: CLICK HERE
Bentley's administration began to crumble when news broke that he was having a sexually tinged relationship with one of his top advisers, a married mother of three 30 years his junior. There had been rumblings of the affair since the governor's inauguration after re-election in 2014, but the story did not start to explode until months later.
The governor and Rebekah Caldwell Mason both denied they had a sexual relationship, though recordings of phone conversations released to the media indicated otherwise. Mason, who at first insisted she was the victim of gender bias, nevertheless resigned her position as senior political adviser as the scandal intensified.
Damning evidence surfaced in the past few days when multiple texts between the governor and his surfaced as the investigation picked up steam. The pressure on Bentley began mounting after the governor appointed state attorney general Luther Strange to the U.S. Senate seat vacated when Jeff Sessions stepped away in February to become attorney general for President Donald Trump's administration.
Steve Marshall, who replaced Strange, confirmed that an investigation was underway when he recused himself from an investigation into Bentley's actions last February.
LINK: AL officials react to Bentley's resignation: CLICK HERE
After Mason resigned, it was revealed that she and Bentley shared a safety deposit box at a Montgomery, AL, bank. The state auditor launched an inquiry into the finances of the governor's office, and a state representative began impeachment proceedings.
Bentley's second term was dogged from the start by rumors of the alleged affair. The governor's wife of 50 years, Dianne Bentley, filed for divorce in August 2015. Their divorce was finalized in September 2015, though they had not lived together in months.
On April 5, 2017, the Alabama Ethics Commission said there was probable cause that the governor violated ethics and campaign finance laws. The decision moved the investigation into the two-term governor to the office of the Montgomery County District Attorney.
At the same time impeachment proceedings were gaining steam in the Alabama Legislature. Powerful state Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, on April 6, 2017, called for the governor to resign. Bentley responded with a statement saying he would not quit. And on April 7, 2017, GOP House Speaker Mac McCutcheon joined Marsh in asking Bentley to give up his office.
The GOP's Kay Ivey, 72, is lieutenant governor. She previously served as state treasurer.
In the midst of mounting legal problems, Bentley, 74, was treated in early March 2017, at Baptist Medical Center South in Montgomery to restore a "normal heart rhythm," the hospital said in a statement. He returned to the hospital a week later and was treated with medication for an irregular heartbeat.
Mason is still married to her husband, Jon Mason, who earns more than $91,000 a year as the executive director of the governor's Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives.
Mason was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars out of a 501(C)(4) nonprofit called Alabama Council for Excellent Government, also known as ACEgov. She and her husband, both former broadcast journalists, own an advertising agency in Tuscaloosa. In the spotlight of an Ethics Committee investigation into Mason's activities the Birmingham News reported that the couple had received more than a quarter-million dollars from the University of Alabama, in addition to funds from state agencies for advertising services, government appointments and political consulting.
The embarrassing recordings of conversations of a sexual nature between the 73-year-old governor and Mason exploded into a national story in late March.
The evidence proved devastating for a governor who proclaimed family values, strong religious commitment and conservative social ideals.
Newspapers, websites and members of the Alabama Republican Party called for his resignation, though he remained steadfast in public comments that he would not resign.
Two days after the news broke, State Auditor Jim Zeigler filed a complaint against the governor based on the manner in which Mason has been paid and charged that the two were using "state property and resources" for their personal relationship. The governor said he would cooperate with the investigation.
Not long after, the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa issued a statement that Bentley and Rebekah Mason were no longer members of the church where she had been a member and he had been a deacon for years.
The scandal began with a pair of surreal news conferences broadcast live on local TV.
Spencer Collier, the day after he was fired as head of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, held a morning news conference to proclaim that he had seen evidence of the governor's affair with his top adviser. He said he had heard tapes and seen texts that contained things of a sexual nature. The first tape was released to coincide with Collier's news conference.
The governor shot back in an afternoon news conference, denying a sexual relationship between himself and Rebekah Mason, but he admitted that he had made inappropriate comments to her. Mason never told him to stop, he said.
"There was no sexual activity," Bentley said. "I have not had a physical relationship with Mrs. Mason. At times in the past, have I said things I should not have said? Yes, I have."
The first tape included a comment that he enjoyed touching Mason's breasts and the now infamous line, "If we're going to do what we did yesterday, we're going to have to lock that door."
He concluded the news conference saying that God will use his mistakes to make him a better person and to help others learn from them. In response to a shouted question as he walked away from the podium, Bentley snapped that he had not considered stepping down.
The rumblings about Gov. Bentley's relationship began in earnest when Dianne Bentley filed for divorce Aug. 28, 2015, in their hometown of Tuscaloosa. She had signed the papers two days earlier.
The divorce papers revealed couple had been separated and living apart since January 2015. His address was listed in Montgomery, hers in Tuscaloosa, where the couple resided for years.
The reason for the Bentley's divorce given in the filing was a "complete incompatibility of temperament" causing the marriage to suffer an "irretrievable breakdown."
Despite the apparent separation, the Bentleys celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary July 24, 2015, just over a month before the divorce papers were filed. Both used their official Twitter accounts to send anniversary wishes to the other.
The governor posted a picture from their wedding day and the first lady posted a more recent picture of them. She also wished him happy birthday in February, a month after they would have separated saying "here's to another birthday by your side" with a picture of the two of them holding hands.
On the day the divorce was announced, they appeared together in a ceremony at the Governor's Mansion.
The Bentleys met as students at the University of Alabama. He was in his first year of medical school at the time. They have two biological sons, two adopted sons, seven granddaughters and one grandson.
Bentley was born Feb. 3, 1943, in Columbiana, AL, and after graduating from medical school in 1968, served as an Air Force medical officer for six years. After leaving the Air Force, he opened a dermatology practice in Tuscaloosa in 1974. He founded Alabama Dermatology Associates and turned it into one of the largest dermatology practices in the Southeast.
He first ran for state office in 1998, losing his bid for a seat in the Alabama Senate. Four years later, he ran for the state House of Representatives and won easily. He ran for re-election unopposed in 2006.
Bentley ran for governor in 2010 as part of a seven-candidate Republican primary field. He finished second with 25.2 percent of the votes to Bradley Byrne's 27.9 percent and was 1/10th of a percentage point above third place candidate Tim James, who disputed the results and demanded recounts.
Bentley faced Byrne in a runoff and defeated him with 56 percent of the vote.
He won the general election over Democrat Ron Sparks with 57 percent of the vote, the largest margin for a Republican in Alabama gubernatorial history. He then eclipsed his own record margin when he was re-elected in 2014 with 63 percent. The Constitution of Alabama limits governors to two consecutive terms, so Bentley would not have been allowed to run for a third term in 2018.
During his first campaign for governor, Bentley used his medical background prominently. His slogan regarding the state's financial problems was "Alabama is sick and we need a doctor."
Because of Alabama's financial troubles and high unemployment, Bentley promised not to take a salary as governor and kept the promise once in office.
Bentley's election was considered a surprise due to his relative lack of political experience. During his tenure, he was able to remain free from major scandals. However, he did have to apologize after making a statement his second day in office that only born-again Christians were his "brothers and sisters." He apologized for the remark and said he was going to be a "governor for all people."
On May 27, 2011, Alabama was hit by a major tornado outbreak, including a devastating one to Bentley's hometown of Tuscaloosa. At the time, it was the costliest tornado in American history. It killed 64 people and was part of a larger tornado outbreak that killed more than 300 across the Southeast, including 131 in Alabama.
Bentley was scheduled to meet with other leaders in New Orleans to discuss the recovery efforts following the 2010 BP oil spill, but he withdrew to oversee relief efforts across the state.
Bentley met with Obama when he toured the storm damage and personally visited every area that received damage from the outbreak.
Casino gambling was a major topic of Bentley's first campaign and as governor he steadfastly refused to support the loosening of Alabama's tight gambling restrictions and was against the introduction of a state-wide lottery amid claims that it would help bridge the gap in the state's budget.
During his tenure as governor, creating jobs was Bentley's top priority. He recruited several industries to Alabama, including automotive suppliers, a Remington factory in Huntsville, a Boeing research facility in Huntsville, an Airbus production facility in Mobile and helped the state retain a Wrangler distribution center after it was damaged in the 2011 tornado outbreak.
The governor's official website claims Alabama gained 80,000 jobs during his first term with another 70,000 guaranteed for the future.
Bentley announced Alabama would not support the Affordable Care Act and did not expand Medicare or set up a state-run health insurance exchange under the law's provisions.
Bentley also signed into a law a bill imposing heavy restrictions on illegal immigration in 2012. The bill allowed law enforcement to determine the immigration status of anyone they arrest, and required immigrants to provide documentation of their status if prompted.
The bill allowed heavy penalties against anyone who hired illegal immigrants, whether knowingly or unknowingly. It also created a public database with names of illegal immigrants in the state, though Bentley said he did not support that provision.
In 2014, he targeted Democratic challenger Parker Griffith for his support of President Barack Obama and his switch from the Democratic Party to the GOP and then and back to being a Democrat. He set another record for margin of victory in November 2014.
In his second term, though he had run on a no-new-taxes agenda, Bentley announced a plan to raise taxes to cover the state's budget shortfall and generated considerable controversy over the decision to remove Confederate flags from the Capitol grounds.
A shooting that left nine people dead at a church in Charleston, SC, re-ignited the debate over the Confederate flag when pictures of the suspect surfaced of him posing with the Confederate battle flag. Bentley ordered the removal of the battle flag and the three Confederate national flags from a Civil War memorial on the grounds of the Capitol.
That decision led to several rallies supporting the flag and asking for it to be re-installed and prompted a lawsuit against the governor alleging he did not have the authority to order the flags removed.
Bentley also was asked by a judge to force the redesign of a Sons of Confederate Veterans license plate, but he declined.
Montgomery also became the home of a new college football bowl game, the Camellia Bowl, which was first held in 2014.
When the University of Alabama-Birmingham football team was disbanded after the 2014 season, Bentley said he was unaware it was going to happen and found out the same time everyone else did. As governor, Bentley was the head of the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees, which was believed to have pressured the school administration into canceling the program.
When UAB president Ray Watts announced the team would be cut, Bentley released a statement praising the team for its six-win season and saying he respected Watts' authority as president. Once it was announced the team would be returning in 2017, Bentley praised the decision.
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