Gov. Robert Bentley never used federal anti-terrorism money to pay his staff, a spokeswoman for the governor said Wednesday.
The response comes a week after a former Bentley bodyguard claimed Bentley used federal Homeland Security money to hide the true cost of his staff.
In a late-afternoon statement by email, Bentley spokeswoman Yasamie August said the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency investigated that claim this week.
“ALEA Executive Director Ryan Burchnell has completed an inquiry with ALEA's Financial Services team and has confirmed no gubernatorial staff members have been paid with federal Homeland Security funds during the entirety of the Bentley administration,” August wrote.
Bentley was sued last week by the former head of his security team, Ray Lewis, who claims Bentley defamed him and invaded his privacy during a controversy over Lewis’s overtime pay in 2014.
In his 47-page complaint, Lewis makes several allegations about an alleged affair between Bentley a married former top adviser, Rebekah Mason. Bentley and Mason have long denied those allegations. Bentley is currently the subject of an impeachment investigation by the House Judiciary Committee, requested by House members after the affair allegations were made public.
The Lewis suit also alleges that Bentley used federal money to pay members of his staff “so that the governor could hide their salaries and, therefore, in the campaign, look fiscally responsible.” Lewis alleges that the money used to pay the staffers was from the Department of Homeland Security, and that “local police departments (were) concerned that they were not getting federal funds.”
Until 2015, top members of the governor’s staff were routinely given hollow “assistant director” positions in the state’s Homeland Security department, to get around a $35,000-per-year salary cap for some gubernatorial appointees. The practice ended when lawmakers voted to remove the cap, which was established in the 1970s.
The bogus homeland security officials – actually a Bentley legal adviser, a chief of staff, a Medicaid advisor and other officials – had salaries of as much as $169,000 per year.
Former ALEA director Spencer Collier said earlier this week that none of the Homeland Security “assistant directors” from the governor’s office were paid with federal homeland security money.
The governor’s office, however, was less quick to make the same claim. August on Tuesday said that ALEA was “researching” whether federal funds were used to pay the governor’s staff.
It’s unclear how the ALEA officials conducted their inquiry. Attempts to reach Burchnell, the ALEA official, were unsuccessful Wednesday. August didn’t immediately respond to follow-up questions by email, and attempts to reach her by telephone were unsuccessful.
Federal auditors took the state to task in 2014 for passing along too little of its Homeland Security grant money to local law enforcement agencies. States are required to pass along 80 percent of their grant money to local governments: Alabama in 2011 passed on only 14 percent. In 2012, local governments got 21 percent of the state’s grant money.
Collier, in an interview earlier this week, said the state spent too much of its federal money on state-level staff – but he said no federal money went to staffers from the governor’s office.