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Former state lawmaker testifies he was paid to oppose EPA

July 4, 2018

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Former state Rep. Oliver Robinson testified Tuesday that he accepted money to oppose federal environmental cleanup efforts in north Birmingham, telling jurors that in doing so that he felt like he sold out the people who had elected him.

Robinson, a former basketball star and one-time rising star in the Alabama House of Representatives, took to the witness stand as a disgraced politician. He is a key witness for prosecutors trying to prove that two attorneys with a prominent Alabama law firm and a coal company executive paid bribes to Robinson, in the form of a consulting contract, in the hopes of avoiding clean-up costs at a Birmingham Superfund site.

News outlets reported that Robinson described an agreement for a consulting contract.

“They wanted me to use my influence as a legislator to talk to neighborhood presidents, local politicians, state politicians, church leaders, anybody that would be in favor of opposing the EPA,” Robinson testified, according to ABC 33/40.

Robinson, who pleaded guilty last year to bribery and tax evasion, said he felt that he had sold out the people who had elected him to the Alabama Statehouse, the station reported.

The testimony came in the second week of the bribery trial of lawyers Joel Gilbert and Steven McKinney and Drummond Co. vice president David Robertson. The three have maintained their innocence, with defense lawyers suggesting in opening statements that Robinson is trying to reduce his prison sentence by misrepresenting what happened.

The trial touches both the Alabama Statehouse and a prominent Alabama coal company and law firm, Balch & Bingham.

EPA officials had designated an area in Birmingham as a Superfund site because of elevated levels of arsenic, lead and other chemicals. In 2013 they notified a division of Drummond Coal Co. it was one of five companies potentially responsible for the pollution. The EPA said in 2014 that it was considering adding the site to the national priority list and expanding it into other neighborhoods.

Al.com reported that Robinson described how he met with EPA officials and an environmental group using talking points from Gilbert and spoke before the state environmental agency.

Defense attorneys on Tuesday began what is expected to be a rigorous cross-examination of Robinson.

Defense attorney Jack Sharman, in questioning Robinson, noted that Robinson hopes to get a reduced sentence by cooperating with prosecutors.

Defense lawyers will continue to cross-examine Robinson on Thursday.

Robinson had served in the Alabama House of Representatives from 1998 until his sudden resignation in 2016. Robinson was a standout basketball player at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and played a season with the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs.

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