Veteran state senator’s trial begins 2nd week

Published 12:12 pm Monday, January 19, 2009

BIRMINGHAM — The corruption trial of a veteran state senator and a minister begins its second week Tuesday with the defense presenting witnesses.

Federal prosecutors finished their witnesses Friday at the end of the first week of the bribery, conspiracy and mail fraud trial of state Sen. E.B. McClain, D-Midfield, and the Rev. Samuel Pettagrue, former pastor of Sardis Baptist Church.

Pettagrue operated the Heritage to Hope Foundation in Jefferson County. It was set up to help the community, including assisting high school dropouts in completing a GED program.

On Friday, FBI Special Agent Lawrence Borghini testified that Pettagrue’s nonprofit foundation received $758,245 from state programs and paid McClain $306,909. The foundation also received smaller amounts from nongovernment sources.

Prosecutors contend McClain, a six-term legislator, secured state funds for the foundation and then got 40 percent of the money for no work. McClain argues that he earned the money through consulting and public relations work.

On Thursday, Bob Romine, former vice chancellor for Alabama’s two-year college system, testified that former Chancellor Roy Johnson told him to call McClain in 2006 with the news there would be no more state money for the foundation and to tell the lawmaker, “It’s too hot.”

Romine said McClain responded, “What am I going to do for money?”

The remark drew laughter from jurors. It came on the same day Alabama legislators were meeting in Montgomery to discuss how to cut state services due to declining state revenue.

Romine, who left the two-year college system in 2007, said the foundation never would have received money from the two-year college system without Johnson’s intervention.

The State Board of Education fired Johnson in 2006, and he pleaded guilty last year to receiving nearly $1 million in kickbacks for himself, family and friends. He is scheduled for sentencing next month.

Before the trial broke Friday for the long holiday weekend, Paul Hubbert, the executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association, told the jury he never would have approved $20,000 in grant money for Pettagrue’s foundation if he had known McClain was receiving money from it.

Prosecutors showed that AEA contributed the $20,000 in three payments in 2003 and 2005 to help with the program’s GED program, and McClain received checks totaling $16,000 from the foundation shortly after those payments.

Senate budget committee Chairman Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, testified that he recommended a $200,000 state grant be approved for the foundation at McClain’s request, but he would not have done so if he had known McClain was receiving money.