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Jurors hearing differing views on Alabama sheriff on trial

July 16, 2021 GMT
FILE - This booking photograph released by the Limestone Sheriff's Office shows Sheriff Mike Blakely following his arrest on theft and ethics charges on Aug. 22, 2019. Blakely is set to stand trial nearly two years after he was indicted. Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday, July 12, 2021, for the Limestone County sheriff, who has continued to serve despite facing a dozen felony counts alleging he stole campaign donations, got interest-free loans and solicited money from employees. (Limestone County Sheriff's Office via AP)
FILE - This booking photograph released by the Limestone Sheriff's Office shows Sheriff Mike Blakely following his arrest on theft and ethics charges on Aug. 22, 2019. Blakely is set to stand trial nearly two years after he was indicted. Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday, July 12, 2021, for the Limestone County sheriff, who has continued to serve despite facing a dozen felony counts alleging he stole campaign donations, got interest-free loans and solicited money from employees. (Limestone County Sheriff's Office via AP)

ATHENS, Ala. (AP) — Prosecutors on Friday told jurors that a longtime Alabama sheriff siphoned campaign donations and inmate accounts to cover personal expenses, while a defense lawyer argued no money was illegally taken and there is an explanation for the transactions.

Lawyers gave diverging portraits during opening statements in the corruption trial of Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely, news outlets reported. Blakely faces 11 criminal counts, including using his office for personal gain, theft of campaign funds and taking money held by the sheriff’s office.

Blakely, 70, pleaded not guilty. While a felony conviction would result in his automatic removal from office, he has continued to work as sheriff since being indicted in 2019.

“Just because Mike Blakely is the sheriff, that doesn’t mean he’s above the law,” Kyle Beckman, an Alabama assistant attorney general, told jurors.

Prosecutors said that Blakely on several occasions took checks intended for his campaign account and deposited the money in his personal account at another bank. The deposits came as his account was in danger of being overdrawn.

Prosecutors also alleged that from April 2013 to June 2016, Blakely routinely borrowed Limestone County Jail inmates’ money that was kept in a safe. They said he would write checks to repay the money, but those would be held for nearly a year. At one point, there were 19 checks covering the cash payments to Blakely and he was floated $29,050 for 271 days, prosecutors said.

Other accusations against Blakely include that he got three jail inmates to do work for a company that loaned him money. Prosecutors said the sheriff also went to casinos when he was supposed to be attending law enforcement conferences and had a subordinate loan him $1,000 when he was in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Robert Tuten, Blakely’s lead defense attorney, said none of the 11 incidents described by state prosecutors amounts to a crime. Tuten didn’t offer an extended defense of each count but said witnesses, including Blakely, would be able to offer clear, logical explanations for each transaction.

“There is no missing money,” he told the jury. He added that Blakely had no criminal intent with each of the transactions.

Tuten said the clerk who loaned Blakely the $1,000 will testify that she was not pressured or coerced and has been Blakely’s friend for decades.

The trial resumes Monday when prosecutors will call their first witnesses.