- Associated Press - Friday, October 21, 2016

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Former Alabama Law Enforcement Secretary Spencer Collier said Friday he feels vindicated by a grand jury’s decision clearing him of criminal wrongdoing and a statement by his attorney accused the governor of using law enforcement resources as a “political tool.”

Collier issued a response a day after Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange announced a grand jury had found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Collier when he was head of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. The investigation came after the agency forwarded an internal report to the attorney general.

“It is now abundantly clear that the Governor and Secretary Stabler used substantial state law enforcement resources as a political tool. The ALEA investigation was based on conjecture, rumors and false information,” the response issued through Collier’s attorney said.

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.

Collier - a day after being dismissed - held a blockbuster news conference and accused Bentley of having an affair with his then-political adviser, Rebekah Mason, 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 who heads the public corruption unit in the attorney general’s office.

Bentley, 73, subsequently acknowledged making inappropriate remarks and personal mistakes, but denied having a sexual affair and the other accusations.

An internal 63-page Alabama Law Enforcement Agency report quoted agency employees raising questions about Collier’s attendance, management, hiring decisions and spending on guns and clothes. The report, among other things, noted that Collier’s state gas card was used to purchase fuel multiple times after he was placed on medical leave. It said investigators were dispatched to try to obtain video footage from the gas stations.

The statement from Collier’s attorney said the grand jury’s decision shows that report “was not a bona fide investigation.”

Bentley on Friday stood by the decision to dismiss Collier. He told reporters that Collier was dismissed because of “reports of how the office was being run” and the need for a new direction at the agency.

“The findings that we used to make a decision are already documented,” Bentley said. “I wish the best for Spencer. I really do. Spencer was a friend of mine for a long time I had to make a decision as governor related to an agency. It really was not personal,” Bentley said.

Collier and Bentley were once friends and served together in the Alabama House of Representatives, but the relationship soured at some point.

Collier in his March news conference said he had confronted the governor about his relationship with Mason after hearing a recording of Bentley making romantic and sexually charged remarks during a phone call.

The attorney general’s office was also at the center of one dispute between Collier and Bentley.

The two clashed earlier this year after prosecutor Matt Hart asked for Collier to sign an affidavit saying he was not under investigation for prosecutorial misconduct in the case against convicted House Speaker Mike Hubbard. Bentley, who was also a witness in the upcoming trial, told Collier not to sign it. Collier later signed the affidavit.

Bentley briefly testified 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.

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