Candidates clash over government billing dispute

Candidates clash over government billing dispute

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

With just six weeks to go until the March 3rd primary elections, the gloves are starting to come off as some Republican candidates for Congress in Alabama’s 2nd District mix it up.

Late last week, AL.com columnist Kyle Whitmire published a piece critical of Dothan businessman Jeff Coleman, whose moving company, Coleman Worldwide, in 2015 paid a $5 million settlement to the federal government in a weighing and billing dispute. Coleman’s company specializes in moving military families from base to base, and in 2012 the Department of Justice pressed a False Claims Act case saying the government was over-billed due to falsified truck weights.

In a statement to Alabama Daily News, the Coleman campaign asserted that the company did nothing wrong, the settlement was a business decision to avoid further legal expenses, and that the employee in question was fired for poor performance prior to the company’s knowledge his unlawful behavior.

One fellow candidate in the race wasted no time pouncing on the story. During a news conference Friday, Prattville businesswoman Jessica Taylor accused Coleman of “corruption” and questioned his fitness to serve in Congress.

“Jeff Coleman can’t ‘move and shake’ out of this one,” Taylor said. “I have promised to go to Congress to get rid of corruption and influence peddling. I just never figured I’d have to start here in the Republican primary, but I’m ready.”

Taylor also questioned Coleman’s decision to recuse himself from votes that could possibly impact his business, saying that would disqualify him from important votes for the military bases in the district. Alabama’s 2nd District is home to Fort Rucker in the Wiregrass and Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery, as well as several National Guard posts.

Coleman campaign manager Dalton Dismukes strongly pushed back on any suggestion of wrongdoing by his candidate, and explained the history of the dispute.

“Coleman World Group has always denied the allegations made against it in 2014 by the Obama Justice Department,” campaign manager Dalton Dismukes said. “As to those claims, the company made a business decision to settle to avoid the expense and disruption of business rather than fight the Obama Justice Department and its endless resources. The suggestion that the settlement was an admission of guilt is absolutely false. Coleman World Group and Jeff Coleman have been and remain strong supporters of the military which remains a client of the family business to this day. With respect to the employee, this matter involved one person out of a company that employs thousands worldwide, and Coleman World Group had already fired him for poor performance before the government notified the company of his unlawful behavior.”

Also running for the Republican nomination in Alabama’s 2nd District are former Attorney General Troy King, former State Rep. Barry Moore, and Montgomery electrician Bob Rogers. Recent polls show Coleman leading the race by significant margins.