By MARY SELL and TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A state lawmaker who has been under political pressure after attending a former Ku Klux Klan leader’s birthday celebration on Thursday was charged with a felony.
Montgomery District Attorney Daryl Bailey issued a warrant for State Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, on charges of first degree theft of property, a Class B felony.
“Our office received a written complaint from a local business on May 20th of this year regarding an alleged theft of a large sum of money from their business by an employee,” Bailey said in a statement.
“… After countless hours of investigation which consisted of witness interviews, obtaining bank records, and gathering other evidence, a decision was made by prosecutors in my office that probable cause that a crime was committed existed.”
The state alleges the theft in excess of $2,500 took place at Weiss Commercial Flooring Inc., where Dismukes worked before starting his own flooring company.
A felony conviction would automatically remove Dismukes from office. A class B felony is punishable by up to two years in prison and fines up to $30,000.
Dismukes turned himself into the Montgomery County Jail Thursday evening and did not respond to questions from reporters. His attorney, Trey Norman, said the 30-year-old Prattville lawmaker maintains his innocence and that the charges stem from four years ago.
“The thing that surprised us is that nobody knew anything about this until five days ago,” Norman said. “If I worked for someone and they had accused me of taking money, I wouldn’t expect four years to go by before anybody said anything to me.”
Norman also said that based on the evidence he has seen so far, charges could be brought against additional individuals. He would not elaborate on the facts of the case, but questioned the timing of the arrest warrant given Dismukes’ recent political troubles.
“I don’t want to say this is politically motivated, but we all know the times that we live in. We know some of the events that have occurred in the last few weeks,” Norman said.
“I’ll let [the public] draw their own conclusions, but it certainly is a coincidence.”
Dismukes has been at the center of controversy for nearly two weeks. The freshman lawmaker has endured calls for his resignation since his participation late last month in an event honoring Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and noted leader of the Ku Klux Klan.
That event was the same weekend much of the state was honoring Troy native and civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis, D-Georgia.
Last week, Alabama Daily News reported that the Alabama Ethics Commission did not have a required annual statement of economic interests from Dismukes three months after it was due.
Dismukes told ADN he had filed it. Later, a copy, timestamped the day after ADN contacted him, was available in Ethics’ online database.
Members of the Legislature, as well as most other elected officials and public employees at state and local levels, are required to submit the reports each year. They were due April 30.
Dismukes’ 2017 statement of economic interests says he was an estimator/project manager for Weiss Commercial Flooring. His 2018 statement also lists the company as an employer. In 2019, Dismukes started his own company, Custom Floor Covering, in Elmore.
A statement from House leadership was not immediately available. Gov. Kay Ivey issued a brief statement Thursday afternoon.
“Everyone is innocent until proven guilty, and this is a process that will need to play out,” Ivey said. “However, if true, it is disappointing when a public official, elected with the confidence of the people, abuses that trust. I support the letter of the law, and no one is above it – especially those in public office.”
Besides Democrats, some Republicans, including House Majority Whip Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, and Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Fairhope, have publicly criticized Dismukes. Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville, last month called on Dismukes to resign from the district that overlaps Chambliss’ Senate territory.
Dismukes on July 30 told ADN via text that “under no circumstance will I be resigning my position in the Alabama Legislature.”
State Republican Party Chair Terry Lathan on Twitter Thursday said elected officials, regardless of party, are expected to follow the laws of our state and nation.
“No one is immune to these standards,” she said. “It is very disappointing to hear of these allegations.This is now a legal matter and it must run its course.”
Late last month after meeting with church leadership, Dismukes resigned his position as a part-time pastor at a Baptist church in Prattville.
Dismukes’ House district includes parts of Elmore and Autauga counties. He briefly ran for Congress last year before dropping out of the GOP primary.