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Filed 08/19/2006 Updated after 4PM for next day...
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Today’s News Headlines from Alabama 810 News 

  • Gadsden officials enter guilty pleas
  • Governor will prevent ABC store in downtown Anniston
  • Barton files complaint against Sen. Pruitt
  • Anniston school board wants repairs completed


Gadsden officials enter guilty pleas 

Two Gadsden city councilmen and a political consultant admitted Thursday to participating in bribery and wire fraud conspiracy to obtain support for a multimillion-dollar project.   City Councilmen Jimmy L. Armstrong,  and Fred L. Huff,  and consultant Larry Thompson,  each pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge before U.S. District Judge L. Scott Coogler in Birmingham. Coogler set sentencing for the three men within 90 days.   Armstrong and Huff acknowledged they agreed to enrich themselves by soliciting and accepting cash bribes from Thompson and an unnamed cooperating witness in exchange for casting votes to support a development along the banks of the Coosa River. Armstrong accepted two payments totaling $800 for his votes, while Huff accepted four payments totaling $1,600 for his votes, according to their plea agreements. Thompson admitted that he solicited cash payments from the cooperating witness for helping the real estate development known as Lafferty's Landing. Thompson's plea agreement said he made cash payments to himself and helped the witness make payments, including offering details on how to pass the money and what to say to City Council members. When Coogler asked each of the three men how they wanted to plead based on the government charge, they stood separately and each said: "Guilty, sir." Each of the men has agreed to cooperate in the investigation, known as Operation Costly Influence. The three remain free on bond. Conspiracy is punishable by a sentence of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, but sentencing is at the judge's discretion. The men and their attorneys declined comment as they left the federal courthouse. The case is being investigated by the FBI and prosecuted by the Justice Department's Washington-based Public Integrity Section. More individuals including public officials may be charged.   Gadsden Commercial Development Authority Director Cathy E. Back also has agreed to plead guilty in the case. The Justice Department Tuesday charged Back with conspiracy. Her plea change hearing is set for next tuesday.   D. Keith Bryars, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI's Birmingham office, said investigating public corruption is a top criminal priority for the agency.


Governor will prevent ABC Store in downtown Anniston 

State officials say that it is almost a certainty that an ABC Store that had originally been planned for the Anniston Downtown area, will not open.  The Anniston City Council voiced opposition to the location at 12th street and Wilmer avenue after receiving a large number of complaints about the location.  Construction on the building continued.  However, the governors office said that the store will not open.  Ken Wallis,  the governors legal council said that the governor would have to sign the lease agreement for it to become binding.  Wallis said Thursday that the governor has no intention of signing the lease agreement. 




Barton files complaint against Sen. Pruitt 

Larry Barton has filed a complaint with state election officials alleging that State Sen. Jim Preuitt, who fended off a challenge from Barton in the June Democratic primary, committed several campaign finance violations. Barton claimed in a June 14 letter to the office of Secretary of State Nancy Worley that, among other charges, Preuitt loaned his re-election campaign $35,000 from his personal money since December 2004 to seed his campaign but paid himself back $40,000 — illegally enriching himself with campaign funds. Preuitt acknowledged Thursday that, as campaign finance reports he filed in the past two years show, the simple fact of Barton’s charge is correct — he repaid $5,000 more than he originally loaned to himself, but Preuitt said he had no ill intent. It was simply an administrative error, Preuitt said, that he corrected as soon as he became aware. Preuitt said he’s spent large amounts of his own money toward his political career that were never returned to him. An annual report Preuitt filed Jan. 27, 2005, as required by the Fair Campaign Practices Act, shows a $5,000 loan from himself dated December 2004. His next annual report, filed Jan. 31, 2006, shows another loan from himself for $30,000. Preuitt’s most recent finance report, filed five days before the primary election, lists a $40,000 loan repayment to himself.  Preuitt said that, when he learned of Barton’s complaint, he had his campaign audited and discovered the mistake. The additional $5,000 has since been returned to the campaign account, and a copy of the deposit slip was sent to election officials. The matter is now being handled by the offices of state Attorney General Troy King and Talladega County District Attorney Steve Giddens.


Anniston school board wants repairs completed 

Anniston City School Superintendent Sammy Lee Felton wants repairs completed at Anniston High School.  Felton said the auditorium's stage, lighting and curtains sustained damage from a fire at the high school on May 19th..   The School board Thursday Declared an emergency to allow the board to bypass the normal process of advertising for bids and automatically accept the lowest bid for the work.  The school already completed repairs to the high school library, classrooms and hallways to allow school to start on time Aug. 10.

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