A.G. speaks to Brundidge club

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 1, 2001

Staff Writer

Jan. 31, 2001 10 PM

BRUNDIDGE ­ Alabama’s Attorney General Bill Pryor touted his record on "white collar crime" on a stop in Pike County on Wednesday.

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Pryor, who considers himself "your lawyer," spoke to the Brundidge Rotary Club about several subjects involving "the law firm of the people of Alabama."

Since taking office in January 1997, Pryor has "tackled" white collar crime and public corruption because he believes those who destroy the public’s trust "should be brought before the criminal justice system" like anyone else who commits a crime.

On the same day as Pryor addressed the Rotary Club, his office was announcing the convictions of six individuals for their roles in a Winston County voter fraud case involving the June 2000 Republican primary election. Former Sheriff David Sutherland; Jimmy F. Richardson, the husband of former District Judge Ann Richardson who was a candidate for re-election; Scotty D. Cole, a candidate for Winston County Commission chairman; Denita H. Lee, a candidate for the Winston County Board of Education; Idas L. Neal Jr., a candidate for the Winston County Board of Education and Eugene Emerson all pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiring to buy absentee ballot votes with cash, beer and liquor.

"Election fraud has been a priority of that division the past few years," Pryor said of those who investigate such cases.

"Election fraud is a serious crime," Pryor said, adding such illegal activity "strikes as the heart of a democratic government."

Pryor said he hopes convictions like the ones in the Winston County case will send "a strong message that we’re not going to tolerate that type of activity" in the state of Alabama.

Medicare and Medicaid fraud cases have also been investigated by the Attorney General’s Office and individuals have been prosecuted.

Another project of Pryor’s office is sentencing reform.

He said the current sentencing system in place is "dishonest, irrational and unfair."

It is "dishonest" because individuals do not serve all the time they are sentenced to serve; "irrational" because some individuals could benefit more through less expensive, alternative programs than incarceration and "unfair" because two individuals found guilty of similar crimes will not receive a similar sentence.

Last year, the Alabama Legislature

created a permanent sentencing commission to evaluate the problems. He said he is "pleased" with what they have accomplished, but "there’s still a lot of work to be done" when it comes to sentencing issues.

Pryor is also made it a priority to speed up the execution process.

According to Pryor, the average term on death row is more than a dozen years because of mandatory appeals to the Court of Criminal Appeals and the Alabama Supreme Court.

The attorney general is also working with the Legislature to pass an identity theft bill.

People trying to take the identities of individuals and ruining their credit is one of the "fastest-growing crimes" in the United States and it can "wreak havoc" on a person’s life, Pryor said, adding the Speaker of the House of Representatives Seth Hammett has promised that bill will be out of committee in the first week of the session that begins Feb. 6.

Pryor closed his comments with talk of a mentoring initiative by the Attorney General’s office.

"I have made juvenile crime a high priority," Pryor said.

He said mentoring can help prevent juvenile crime because he found that most of those in detention facilities had the "common thread" of no positive adult figure in their lives.

"I can’t help but think I would have seen fewer in these facilities if they had had more positive adult role models," Pryor said of juvenile offenders.

His goal is to have 2,002 mentors by the end of 2002.