Former state legislator and NBA player sentenced to prison for accepting bribes

“My life has been about helping everyone. But in this case, I failed.”

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Former Alabaman state representative Oliver Robinson Jr., who also played for the San Antonio Spurs, was sentenced Thursday to 33 months in federal prison for conspiracy, bribery, honest services wire fraud, and tax evasion. In exchange for roughly $375,000 in bribes from a major coal company and its law firm, Robinson abused his official position by obstructing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from implementing tens of millions of dollars in cleanup costs and fines near his district.

Before representing Alabama’s House District 58 from 1998 until he resigned on November 30, 2016, Robinson was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs in 1982 and played in 35 games for the Spurs in the 1982–83 NBA season. While serving as a state legislator, his district bordered the EPA’s Superfund site in North Birmingham, called the 35th Avenue Superfund Site after finding elevated levels of arsenic, lead, and benzo(a)pyrene during soil sampling.

In September 2013, the EPA notified five companies, including Drummond-owned ABC Coke, that they were potentially responsible for the pollution, which could have resulted in millions of dollars in fines and cleanup costs. In addition, the EPA sought to expand the Superfund site into the surrounding communities of Inglenook and Tarrant and place it on the EPA’s National Priorities List (NPL).

Beginning in February 2015, Robinson’s nonprofit organization, Oliver Robinson Foundation, started receiving monthly bribes from law firm Balch & Bingham and its client, Drummond Company, Inc. Over the course of two years, his non-profit Oliver Robinson Foundation received a total of approximately $375,000 in bribes from Balch & Bingham partner Joel Gilbert and Drummond Company executive David Roberson in exchange for Robinson’s successful attempts to thwart the EPA from protecting the people of his district.

Besides pressuring state officials to oppose the EPA, Robinson used his official position to meet with EPA representatives while utilizing talking points drafted by Gilbert and secretly recording the meeting. Robinson also voted in the Alabama House of Representatives Rules Committee on a resolution, drafted by Gilbert, opposing the EPA’s efforts in North Birmingham. Robinson always concealed his financial relationship with Balch and Drummond, as required in his contract with Gilbert and Roberson.

On June 22, 2017, Robinson was charged with accepting bribes from the Birmingham lawyer and Alabama coal company executive in exchange for advocating their employers’ opposition to EPA actions in North Birmingham. On September 7, 2017, Robinson pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy, one count of bribery, four counts of fraud, and one count of tax evasion while agreeing to cooperate with the U.S. Attorney’s office and testify during the bribery trial of former Drummond Vice President of Government Affairs David Roberson and former Balch attorney Joel Gilbert.

Roberson and Gilbert were convicted of six criminal charges each, including one count of conspiracy, one of bribery, three counts of honest services wire fraud, and one count of money laundering. Their sentencing hearings are scheduled for October.

“Robinson betrayed his constituents and neighbors in North Birmingham and Tarrant, selling his elected office to special interests for personal profit. An elected official can scarcely commit a more egregious crime,” stated U.S. Attorney Jay Town. “This former state legislator will never again hold elected office and he will spend the next three years of his life in federal prison.”

“Elected government officials should be held to a higher ethical standard and it was obvious that Robinson chose greed over doing the honest thing,” Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation, Special Agent in Charge Thomas Holloman said. “IRS-CI will continue to put resources on these public corruption investigations in an effort to clean up dirty politics.”

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon sentenced Robinson to 33 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. Judge Kallon also ordered Robinson to pay $169,151 in restitution to the IRS and to forfeit $390,783 as proceeds of his illegal activity.

“My life has been about helping everyone. But in this case, I failed,” Robinson said at his sentencing hearing. “There’s been not one day that it hasn’t been difficult for me to get out of bed in the morning…to look at myself in the mirror.”

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