- Associated Press - Monday, October 20, 2014

OPELIKA, Ala. (AP) - Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard was arrested Monday on 23 counts accusing him of breaking the state ethics law by using his public offices to reap financial benefits for himself and his companies.

Acting Attorney General Van Davis said a special Lee County grand jury indicted Hubbard on charges accusing him of misusing his office as speaker and his previous office as chairman of the Alabama Republican Party. Hubbard was processed Monday afternoon at the Lee County Jail and released on $86,000 bond, Sheriff Jay Jones said.

Hubbard said the charges, coming two weeks before the general election in which he’s widely favored for re-election, constitute “a political witch hunt.” He left the jail to attend a political forum and told reporters, “Now I get to fight back.”

The 52-year-old Republican is considered one of Alabama’s most powerful politicians and led the GOP’s takeover of the Legislature in 2010, ending 136 years of Democratic control.

The state attorney general’s office convened the special Lee County grand jury in 2013 to investigate possible government corruption. Attorney General Luther Strange stepped aside from the investigation and named Davis, a former district attorney, to lead it. In Davis’ appointment letter, Strange said Hubbard was the focus of the grand jury, and Hubbard had been preparing in recent days for his possible arrest.

“His mood is comfortable, confident determined, ready to go battle,” defense attorney Mark White said.

The indictment is a dark chapter in the career of the Lee County legislator, who rose to become one of the most powerful politicians in the state. Hubbard was first elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 1998. He was elected chairman of the Alabama Republican Party in 2007 and 2009. He lashed out at what he called Montgomery’s “culture of corruption” as he led Republicans’ 2010 takeover of the Alabama Legislature, ending 136 years of control by Democrats. He left his party leadership role when the House elected him speaker after the 2010 election.

Some of the charges accuse Hubbard of using his party chairmanship to secure business for his media and printing companies in Auburn, and others accuse him of using his legislative position to benefit one of his companies, the Auburn Network, through work with the Alabama Pharmacy Cooperative Inc., Southeast Alabama Gas District and others. The indictment singles out Hubbard’s support of a bill that would have steered state Medicaid business to the pharmacy cooperative while his company was doing marketing work for the cooperative.

Other charges accuse him of soliciting things of value from lobbyists, including former Gov. Bob Riley, Riley’s daughter, Minda Riley Campbell, and Business Council of Alabama President Billy Canary.

Riley did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

Hubbard faces arraignment Dec. 3. If convicted, Hubbard faces from two to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $300,000 on each count.

The Democratic minority leader in the House, Craig Ford of Gadsden, said the investigation is not politically motivated because the attorney general is a Republican like Hubbard. “It is sad to see that, in less than four years, our leaders have embraced the culture of corruption that they ran against in 2010,” he said.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh of Anniston, who helped Hubbard engineer the GOP takeover in 2010, said he has always considered Hubbard to be a man of integrity and still does. “I would hope everyone reserves judgment until we have all the facts,” he said.

Hubbard said he’s not worried about the charges or whether they will impact his race Nov. 4 against Democrat Shirley Scott-Harris of Auburn.

“I’m sleeping well at night because I know the people of Lee County can see this for what it is and that’s politics at its worst,” Hubbard said after his arrest.

Hubbard is the third politician affected by the Lee County probe.

Rep. Barry Moore, R-Enterprise, is scheduled to go to trial Oct. 27 on perjury charges. Prosecutors have accused Moore of lying to the grand jury when he denied telling primary opponent Josh Pipkin that Hubbard had threatened to hold up economic development funds if Pipkin stayed in the race. Moore has pleaded not guilty.

Republican Greg Wren of Montgomery resigned from his House seat in April after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor ethics charge. He admitted taking actions in the Legislature that could have steered a company partially owned by American Pharmacy Cooperative while he was doing work for a company connected to the Bessemer-based firm.

The charges are latest corruption allegations against Alabama politicians to make headlines. Several state senators and lobbyists were acquitted on vote-buying charges in 2012. Former two-year college chancellor Roy Johnson in 2008 pleaded guilty to bribery charges. A federal grand jury in 2006 convicted former Gov. Don Siegelman of selling a health board appointment to HealthSouth founder Richard Scrushy in exchange for campaign donations.

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