Alabama sheriff arrested on theft, ethics charges

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FILE – In this July, 9, 2008 file photo, Limestone County, Ala., Sheriff Mike Blakely speaks to the media following the crash of a small airplane. Blakely, who is in his 10th term in office, was arrested on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019, on multiple theft and ethics charges, according to the Alabama attorney general’s office. (Kim Rynders/Athens News Courier via AP)

ATHENS, Ala. (AP) — Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely was arrested Thursday on theft and ethics charges that include accusations of taking money from campaign and law enforcement accounts.

Blakely, who has been sheriff of the north Alabama county since 1983, was booked into his own jail Thursday. He was later released on $49,000 bail.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said a grand jury indicted Blakely on 13 charges. The office said the charges include taking money from campaign and law enforcement funds and using his position to get interest-free loans.

He allegedly took money from a safe that was used to store the Limestone County inmates’ personal funds.

“Public officials are entrusted to perform their duties honestly and above reproach. When that bond of trust is broken, our society suffers undue harm,” Marshall said in a statement. My office — working with our federal and state partners — is committed to ensuring that the violators of the public trust be held accountable under the law,” Marshall said.

Court records were not immediately available to show details of the charges.

Attorney Mark McDaniel, who represents Blakely, said the sheriff will plead not guilty.

“We look forward to trying this case in front of 12 citizens of Limestone County,” McDaniel told WHNT .

McDaniel said he could not discuss specifics of the case, but said they will likely challenge the constitutionality of the state ethics law.

McDaniel said the act is now so broad that “virtually anything you can do as a public servant now under that act is illegal.”

The attorney general’s office said Blakely faces:

— Four counts of theft from his campaign account totaling $11,000.
— Six counts of theft or ethics charges stemming from his taking money from Limestone County funds, including from the Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Fund.
—One count of soliciting a $1,000 wire transfer from a subordinate.
—Two counts of using his official position or office to acquire interest-free loans, in the form of a $50,000 cashier’s check and/or a $22,189.68 credit. One charge alleges that he obtained the interest-free loan by taking money from a safe that was used to store the Limestone County inmates’ personal funds.

The Limestone County sheriff’s office held a press conference after the charges were announced and said Blakely is back at work.

A representative of the office said he could not discuss the case.

The Alabama Ethics Commission in October referred a complaint against Blakely to state investigators, Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton said.

This is the latest legal entanglement for an Alabama lawman.

Former Pickens County sheriff David Abston pleaded guilty last month to wire fraud and filing a false tax return after being accused of scamming a food bank and church and pocketing leftover money meant for feeding inmates.

Pickens County Chief Deputy Jonathan Gann was arrested this month on charges of second-degree theft and misdemeanor evidence-tampering.

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