State Rep. Greg Wren's guilty plea on an ethics violation may bejust the first domino to fall in an ongoing public corruption investigationinvolving the Alabama Legislature.
The Alabama attorney general's office announced on Tuesday thearrest and conviction of the 59-year-old Wren for violating the state ethicslaw. The Republican lawmaker from Montgomery resigned from his House seat aspart of the plea agreement.
According to the state Attorney General's Office, Wren used hislegislative office to gain knowledge "not available to the generalpublic." He provided that information to a private company that paid him$24,000, according to a release from the Attorney General's Office.
Under the plea agreement, Wren will pay $24,000 in restitution tothe state and serve two-years of probation.
That might sound like a slap on the wrist -- in fact, it is a slapon the wrist. But a comment in the official news release by Acting AttorneyGeneral W. Van Davis, who is leading the public corruption investigation, mayshow why Wren is getting off so lightly.
Davis said, "Former Representative Wren's guilty plea,negotiated in light of his acceptance of responsibility and cooperation withthe state, marks a significant point in the ongoing investigation."
There are two key phrases in that statement: "cooperationwith the state" and "ongoing investigation."
In other words, Wren is singing, and his song has to be makingothers in and around the Legislature nervous.
Language in Wren's plea agreement is intriguing.
The plea agreement entered in court describes meetings Wrenattended "while attempting to obtain legislative support" forlanguage in legislation that would benefit a pharmaceutical cooperative. Theplea notes that among those attending the meetings were the speaker of theHouse, other legislators, legislative staff members, member's of the speaker'sstaff, and lobbyists for the pharmaceutical cooperative.
The plea agreement states: "Subsequent to the meetings,in which Wren participated, wherein the Speaker of the House reviewed andendorsed the Co-op Exclusive Language, Wren was informed by a lobbyist, who hadrepresented Pharm Co-op in those meetings, that the Speaker of the House had anongoing financial relationship with Pharm Co-op. The Speaker of the House hadnot informed Wren, or others Wren interacted with in those meetings, of thatongoing financial relationship."
An attorney for Alabama Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard,R-Auburn, issued a statement that read in part:
"The matters related to Representative Wren's actions todaydo not involve or affect Speaker Hubbard.
"Speaker Hubbard has never failed to cooperate with any lawenforcement authority. Unlike his political opponents, the Speakerrespects the need for the legal process to operate free of politicalinfluences.
"Speaker Hubbard will continue to focus on the currentsession of the Alabama Legislature and his work in the House ofRepresentatives."
Where the ongoing probe ends up remains to be seen. But based onthe statement from the Attorney General's Office, it does not appear thatWren's guilty plea will be the end of it.
Ken Hare was a longtime Alabama newspaper editorial writer andeditorial page editor who now writes a regular column for WSFA's web site.Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2014 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.