- Associated Press - Thursday, October 20, 2016

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - A grand jury found no evidence of wrongdoing by former Law Enforcement Secretary Spencer Collier and has closed the investigation requested by the governor’s administration, Alabama’s attorney general announced Thursday.

Gov. Robert Bentley fired Collier in March, hours after his administration said an internal review found possible misuse of state funds at the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. The agency referred the findings to the office of Attorney General Luther Strange. Strange said his office convened a grand jury which found no evidence against Collier or any basis for the investigation.

“In the course of the investigation, no witness provided credible evidence of criminal ‘misuse of state funds.’ No witness provided credible evidence of any other criminal violation on the part of former Secretary Collier. Finally, no witness established a credible basis for the initiation of a criminal inquiry in the first place,” Strange said in a statement Thursday.

The announcement was a vindication for the fired official who - a day after being dismissed - held a blockbuster news conference and accused Bentley of having an affair with a staffer while he was still married. Collier also accused Bentley of interfering in law enforcement business by telling him not to sign an affidavit requested by a prosecutor in the attorney general’s office ahead of then-House Speaker Mike Hubbard’s ethics trial.

Bentley, 73, subsequently acknowledged making inappropriate remarks and personal mistakes, but denied having a sexual affair and the other accusations. Collier’s claims prompted 23 lawmakers to file impeachment articles against Bentley.

Collier said he planned to issue a statement Friday.

An internal Alabama Law Enforcement Agency report quoted agency employees raising questions about Collier’s attendance, spending and hiring decisions. Collier’s attorney Kenny Mendelsohn called the report a retaliatory “sham” because Collier exposed Bentley’s relationship with political adviser Rebekah Mason.

“This was trumped up to disparage Spencer,” Mendelsohn told The Associated Press earlier this month.

Dianne Bentley, the governor’s ex-wife, filed for divorce in 2015 saying their 50-year marriage had suffered an irreparable breakdown. Mason resigned as a top aide in the governor’s office in March, not long after Collier went public and recordings surfaced of Bentley, before his divorce, making romantic and explicit comments to someone during a phone call. The fallout included lawmakers signing impeachment papers and launching a legislative probe as to whether Bentley had committed any impeachable offenses.

Bentley, in a statement Thursday night, addressed his decision to dismiss Collier after initially placing him on medical leave.

“Based on concerns presented to me by a member of the Alabama Senate and information that was given to the then Acting Secretary of Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Stan Stabler, when he assumed his position, I felt a new direction in our state law enforcement agency was needed. The information obtained by the ALEA integrity unit was gathered and presented to the Attorney General’s office and a determination has been made,” Bentley said.

The governor said he was satisfied with the direction of the agency under Stabler.

Collier and Bentley were once friends and served together in the Alabama House of Representatives. Bentley, after being elected governor, appointed Collier as his homeland security director and then secretary of law enforcement. The relationship soured at some point.

Collier in his March news conference said he had confronted the governor in 2014 about his relationship with Mason after hearing the recording.

Collier and Bentley also clashed earlier this year over a request from prosecutor Matt Hart for Collier to sign an affidavit saying he was not under investigation for prosecutorial misconduct in the case against Hubbard. Bentley told Collier not to sign it. Collier later signed the affidavit.

Bentley was a brief witness at Hubbard’s trial that accused the speaker, among other things, of improperly lobbying the governor’s office on behalf of his business clients. Hubbard was sentenced to four years in prison after being convicted of breaking state ethics law.

The former law enforcement secretary has filed a wrongful dismissal lawsuit against Bentley.

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