Birmingham Rep. John Rogers to remain in custody over witness contact
Attorneys for long-serving House Democrat propose daughter as guardian
Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, speaks during the session of the Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday, March 14, 2023. (Stew Milne for Alabama Reflector)
BIRMINGHAM — Democratic Rep. John Rogers of Birmingham will remain under custody at least until Monday for contacting another person connected to his indictment on obstruction of justice charges.
But Magistrate Judge Staci G. Cornelius Thursday allowed Rogers’ counsel to propose a custodian to ensure that he does not attempt to contact anyone associated with the case, or to discuss the case with his co-defendant, Varrie Johnson Kindall.
“I find that he violated the conditions, and did so intentionally,” Cornelius said at a hearing on Thursday.
Rogers, who faces two felony charges over allegations that he diverted public money for a youth baseball league to an associate, was taken into custody on Monday over allegations that he contacted a witness in the case.
FBI Special Agent Stephen Hudgens said during a hearing on Thursday that “Individual #1,” a witness in the case, reported that Rogers had called him twice via FaceTime, once at 8:17 a.m. and again at 12:11 p.m. that afternoon. Rogers’ attorneys said the representative accidentally made the first call, but not the second.
Rogers testified that the call had been an inadvertent mistake.
“I don’t discuss anything. I was told ‘no discussion at all.’ I was told not to discuss it and I didn’t discuss it,” he said to U.S. Assistant Attorney General George Martin during cross-examination on Thursday.
Cornelius also raised questions about Rogers’ relationship with Kindall, a co-defendant in the case. The indictment says Rogers had a romantic relationship with her. Rogers testified Thursday that Kindall was helping him recover from hip surgery.
Rogers’ earlier bond allowed him to live with Kindall but forbade him from discussing the case with her.
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Cornelius said Thursday that she found it “impossible” to believe he and Kindall did not discuss the case, and said she had reviewed a recording of a call Rogers and Kindall made to a radio station prior to Monday to discuss the case.
John Robbins, an attorney for Rogers, proposed appointing Tammy Rogers, the representative’s daughter, to serve as his custodian if he were released. Robbins said she would be willing to live with him as the case progresses.
Martin asked Rogers about Carlos Chaverst, who said Monday he was retained to be Rogers’ spokesperson, but during and after the hearing, Robbins denied that Chaverst was not “authorized” to speak on the representative’s behalf.
Robbins, Simpson, Kindall and Chaverst were seen gathered outside the courtroom after Monday’s hearing. They had a lengthy discussion before getting in the elevator to head to the ground floor. Chaverst then headed outside with Kindall and spoke to the media, while Robbins and Simpson remained inside.
The indictment accuses Rogers, who has served in the Alabama House for over 40 years, of directing hundreds of thousands of dollars for public projects in Jefferson County to a youth baseball league, with a portion of the money being kicked back to Kindall, who worked as an administrative assistant for Rogers.
Prosecutors also accused Rogers of attempting to convince a person identified as “Individual #1” to give false information to criminal investigators with the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) looking into the transactions.
Rogers’ indictment came months after former Rep. Fred Plump, D-Fairfield, the director of the Piper Davis Youth Baseball League, pleaded guilty to similar charges over the use of public money.
In late May, the Department of Justice (DOJ) accused Plump, a freshman representative, of taking money from the Jefferson County fund under the direction of another Jefferson County legislator identified as “Legislator #1” and kicking back a portion of it to a legislator’s assistant.
Rogers said at the time he was “probably” the unnamed “Legislator #1,” but maintained his innocence.
According to the indictment, between fiscal year 2018 and fiscal year 2022, Rogers received $500,000 from the Jefferson County Community Service Fund for Jefferson County programs. Prosecutors accuse Rogers of moving approximately $400,000 of that discretionary funds to the Piper Davis Youth Baseball League. In turn, Plump gave approximately $200,000 to Kindall.
The indictment says Rogers also moved money from the fund to “Organization #1.” The organization founder, “Individual #1,” then gave a portion of that money to Kindall.
Rogers has served in the Alabama House since 1982. He ran unopposed in the previous two elections. In 2014, he was challenged by Republican Phillip Bahakel but won with almost 77% of the vote.
Rogers is the third representative to face criminal charges this year. Rep. David Cole, R-Huntsville, pleaded guilty to a voting fraud charge and resigned in August after acknowledging he did not live in House district at the time he was elected.
Robbins made an emotional appeal at the end of the hearing.
“We’re talking about retaining an almost 83-year-old who is not in good health,” Robbins said, adding that his doctor said that putting him in jail would be “detrimental” to his health.
“He likes to boast that he can walk a mile. He can. I spoke with his doctor’s office. He can. But he falls a lot,” Robbins said. “But out of his pride, he doesn’t want anybody to know that.”
Cornelius did not appear moved.
“This is not a jury trial, Mr. Robbins,” the judge responded.
The hearing will continue Monday at 10:00 a.m.
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