Former Alabama legislator and NBA player Oliver Robinson Jr. pleaded guilty Thursday to bribery, conspiracy, tax evasion, and four counts of fraud after accepting bribes from a Birmingham lawyer and an Alabama coal company executive in exchange for political favors. Instead of protecting his constituents from hazardous pollutants, Robinson publicly opposed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) while secretly accepting corporate bribes and stealing donations from his political campaign and nonprofit organization.
After briefly playing for the San Antonio Spurs during the 1980s, Robinson left the NBA and later served as a member of the Alabama House of Representatives from 1998 until his abrupt resignation last year. Representing the citizens of Birmingham, Robinson was informed that the EPA had designated an area of North Birmingham as a Superfund site after discovering elevated levels of arsenic, lead, and benzo(a)pyrene during soil sampling.
Potentially facing multi-million dollar clean-up costs and fines, an Alabama coal company known as ABC Coke, a division of Drummond Company, hired Balch & Bingham to oppose the EPA’s actions while protecting the corporation’s financial interests. After contacting Robinson, Balch & Bingham partner Joel Gilbert and Drummond Co. vice president David Roberson reportedly participated in a conspiracy to bribe the state legislator in exchange for his support against the expansion and prioritization of an EPA Superfund site across North Birmingham.
Abusing his official position, Robinson appeared before the Alabama Environmental Management Commission (AEMC) and the director of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) while denouncing the EPA’s actions under the false pretense of concern for his constituents. Robinson neglected to inform the AEMC and ADEM director that he had been secretly bribed by the law firm and coal corporation to advocate exclusively on their behalf.
In addition to the bribery conspiracy, Robinson pleaded guilty to stealing more than $250,000 from the Oliver Robinson Foundation and illegally spending $17,783 of campaign contributions on personal items while also committing tax evasion in 2015. After accepting a plea agreement on Thursday, Robinson potentially faces up to 100 years in prison and over $1 million in fines and restitution payments.
“This lamentable pursuit of self-interest masquerading as beneficial for the little guy is more than a violation of our laws. This was a violation of the public trust and among the worst breaches of our social contract,” stated U.S. Attorney Jay Town. “All those engaged in public corruption must be brought to justice, and it matters not their benefactor or station.”
“Public corruption is among the most serious of criminal violations and a betrayal of the public’s sacred trust,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp Jr. wrote in a recent statement. “If allowed to spread unchecked, it can threaten the foundation of our government.”
Robinson’s sentencing has been scheduled for December 7. He remains free on bond.