State Rep. Greg Wren's guilty plea on an ethics violation may be just the first domino to fall in an ongoing public corruption investigation involving the Alabama Legislature.
The Alabama attorney general's office announced on Tuesday the arrest and conviction of the 59-year-old Wren for violating the state ethics law. The Republican lawmaker from Montgomery resigned from his House seat as part of the plea agreement.
According to the state Attorney General's Office, Wren used his legislative office to gain knowledge "not available to the general public." 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 to the state and serve two-years of probation.
That might sound like a slap on the wrist -- in fact, it is a slap on the wrist. But a comment in the official news release by Acting Attorney General W. Van Davis, who is leading the public corruption investigation, may show 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 with the state, marks a significant point in the ongoing investigation."
There are two key phrases in that statement: "cooperation with the state" and "ongoing investigation."
In other words, Wren is singing, and his song has to be making others in and around the Legislature nervous.
Language in Wren's plea agreement is intriguing.
The plea agreement entered in court describes meetings Wren attended "while attempting to obtain legislative support" for language in legislation that would benefit a pharmaceutical cooperative. The plea notes that among those attending the meetings were the speaker of the House, other legislators, legislative staff members, member's of the speaker's staff, 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 and endorsed the Co-op Exclusive Language, Wren was informed by a lobbyist, who had represented Pharm Co-op in those meetings, that the Speaker of the House had an ongoing financial relationship with Pharm Co-op. The Speaker of the House had not informed Wren, or others Wren interacted with in those meetings, of that ongoing 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 today do not involve or affect Speaker Hubbard.
"Speaker Hubbard has never failed to cooperate with any law enforcement authority. Unlike his political opponents, the Speaker respects the need for the legal process to operate free of political influences.
"Speaker Hubbard will continue to focus on the current session of the Alabama Legislature and his work in the House of Representatives."
Where the ongoing probe ends up remains to be seen. But based on the statement from the Attorney General's Office, it does not appear that Wren's guilty plea will be the end of it.
Ken Hare was a longtime Alabama newspaper editorial writer and editorial page editor who now writes a regular column for WSFA's web site. Email him at email@example.com.
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