Longtime Alabama sheriff convicted on theft, ethics charges

Longtime Alabama sheriff convicted on theft, ethics charges

ATHENS, Ala. (AP) — A longtime Alabama sheriff has been removed from office, the attorney general’s office said, after jurors on Monday found him guilty of charges of theft and using his office for personal gain.

News outlets report that jurors convicted Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely of two counts but found him not guilty of eight others. After nearly 40 years in office, Blakely was escorted out of the courtroom by one of his own deputies and taken to the same jail that he oversaw as sheriff. He was not placed in handcuffs as he left the courtroom, news outlets reported.

Chief Deputy Attorney General Clay Crenshaw said Blakely will be immediately removed from office on Monday because of the felony convictions.

The two convictions relate to accusations that Blakely borrowed money from a jail safe used to hold inmates’ money and that he deposited $4,000 in campaign funds into his personal account.

“The attorney general’s office is committed to ensuring the violators of the public trust be held accountable under the law,” Crenshaw said, reading a statement from the Alabama attorney general’s office. “Today Sheriff Blakely has been held to account for felony violations of the Alabama ethics law as well as a theft charge.”

An attorney on Blakely’s defense team told reporters that they will “keep fighting.”

“We will certainly appeal this decision today and look forward to having another day in court on this matter,” Mark McDaniel, an attorney on Blakey’s defense team, after hearing the verdict.

Blakely, 70, took the stand during the trial to deny any wrongdoing.

Initially elected in 1982, Blakely told jurors he sometimes put campaign funds into his personal account because his campaign treasurer lived hours away and encouraged him to deposit the money as reimbursement for campaign expenses.

While testimony showed Blakely sometimes left IOUs and took money from a jail safe used to hold inmates’ money, he said that wasn’t a crime.

Blakely didn’t deny gambling at casinos during trips to the Gulf Coast and Nevada for law enforcement conferences, but he said the outings didn’t cost taxpayers extra and denied accusations that an employee sent him money because he was broke from losses.

Blakely was indicted in 2019, but the case was delayed several times because of reasons including the pandemic.

“Public officials must set the highest example of accountability, and no matter how long someone holds office they are not above the law,” Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said in a statement. “Sheriff Blakely repeatedly swore an oath to enforce and obey the law during his 40 years in office, and he now knows the consequences of violating that oath.”

Blakely faces a possible prison sentence of between two and 20 years for each count. Sentencing will occur at a later date.