Two insurance salesmen who admitted giving bribes for government business in Cherokee County, Ala., agreed to plead guilty and paid more than $125,000 in restitution for the scam, which could result in additional charges, prosecutors said.
The deals are part of a corruption investigation that already has resulted in a guilty plea by a former probate judge in the east Alabama county, Phillip Jordan. He now is accused of taking $16,500 in bribes in the insurance scam.
James L. Williams, 54, and Michael D. Tillery, 57, admitted to participating in a bribery scheme that cost county residents at least $100,000 in excessive insurance premiums since Jan. 1, 2000, U.S. Attorney Alice Martin said in a news conference. The final total could be almost twice that much, she said.
Both men agreed to plead guilty to federal fraud charges that carry a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine and probation. In exchange for the pleas and help with the investigation, prosecutors said they would recommend lighter punishment for both men.
An unnamed elected official from Cherokee County allegedly took bribes from Tillery, and prosecutors said more charges were possible.
Williams, an independent insurance broker from Gadsden, and Tillery, an agent with Nationwide Insurance in Centre, worked together on the scam for years, according to court documents.
Williams’ companies sold about $614,000 worth of overpriced insurance to the county over five years, according to the charges. Tillery received $26,300 in commissions for helping with the sales, and Williams also made bribery payments of $16,500 to Jordan in exchange for the county’s business.
As part of the same deal, Tillery made two $500 payments to the unnamed officerholder after being encouraged by Williams to “take care” of a county official, according to the charges. Tillery and the official both told investigators initially that the money was a bribe, prosecutors said, but the official has since recanted and claimed the money was a campaign contribution.
Williams repaid the county $100,000 in restitution for the excessive cost of his insurance, Martin said, and Tillery paid the county $26,300 in restitution for the money he took.
Newly appointed Probate Judge Kirk Day said Cherokee County’s budgets were “OK,” but the money can be used for public works projects. Tapped for the post after Jordan’s resignation, Day said the “cancer” of public corruption had cost the county a lot of public trust.
“I think there is some shock and disappointment. These are our friends and neighbors,” he said.
Jordan pleaded guilty last week to accepting $65,000 in exchange for influencing the development of a landfill by Montgomery lobbyist Lanny Young, who pleaded innocent. Jordan’s sentencing was set for Jan. 12.
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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