Birmingham-- Alabama's largest city has a new mayor today. Yesterday, a federal jury convicted Larry Langford on bribery and corruption charges, ousting him from office. WBHM's Tanya Ott reports for NPR.
Larry Langford was raised in a housing project in segregated Birmingham. But he went on to become one of the most powerful politicians in town. He's flamboyant. He made a pitch to have Birmingham host the 2020 Olympics. He's also held bible sessions in city hall. But, now he's a convicted felon. A jury decided that while he was a Jefferson County commissioner Langford accepted nearly a quarter million dollars in designer clothes, jewelry and cash from an investment banker and a lobbyist. In exchange, Langford funneled millions of dollars in county bond deals to the banker. Glennon Threatt is Langford's defense attorney.
"200 plus exhibits and 7 days of testimony and a jury that deliberates for two hours. I'll let ya'll do the math on how much time they spent going through all the documentation and evidence."
The defense argued the cash and clothes were gifts from long-time friends. The banker and the lobbyist pleaded guilty and testified against him. After the verdict, Langford vowed to appeal.
"I'm not the first person who's ever gone on trial for something they didn't do. It happens. But if you expected to see me crying and head dropped. You picked the wrong one. I'm not it."
Langford claims a Republican appointed U.S. attorney targeted him because he's a Democrat and that there was no hope of a black man getting a fair jury trial in Alabama.
"It's sort of like the last refuge of a scoundrel to claim politics or race following a conviction in a fair trial."
Jim Phillips is acting U.S. attorney for this case. His office has prosecuted several former county commissioners -- white and black, Republican and Democratic.
"I don't believe Alabama or Jefferson County is any worse than any other counties or other states. Part of the reason you've seen these cases is the FBI, Internal Revenue Services, law enforcement has aggressively conducted their investigations and any time you have that you're naturally going to have more prosecutions and more folks brought to trial."
Phillips says this should be a warning to other elected officials who might be on the take. Larry Langford faces decades of prison time.
~ Tanya Ott, October 29, 2009.