Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Meet Buddy Hamner

    I'm working on some chapters that weren't included in my book ("The Governor of Goat Hill") that I'm going to publish any day now on my web-site. This little project has expanded a bit on me, and for reasons to be explained when I get the extra chapters up, a long ago story about legendary Alabama political player Buddy Hamner came to mind. I located it, and was surprised by how many well-known folk appeared. Among them are some that seem to just keep making news. For example, Milton McGregor.
    So, what the heck, here's an old story for this blog that's not really a blog. If you happen to be one of my three or four occasional visitors, and find this story interesting, if for nothing else than old time's sake, feel free to pass it around.

Mobile Register
By Eddie Curran
Staff Reporter
May 26, 1995

       W.F. "Buddy" Buddy Hamner pleaded guilty to tax charges in 1982, and published reports have raised his name when revealing details of investigations into Alabama's prison telephone scandal.
       But those drawbacks haven't stopped Hamner from developing a client list that includes some of the most powerful companies and political interests in Alabama, according to disclosure forms for 1991 to 1994. 
      At 66, the former fire truck salesman apparently has developed into one of Montgomery's most sought-after political consultants, working at times with South Central Bell Telephone Co., a law firm representing Alabama Power Co., and others. 
     "Buddy Hamner is someone who has been in Montgomery a long, long time,'' said Maury Smith, a partner in the Birmingham-based law firm of Balch & Bingham, which represents Alabama Power.
     "He has close, close political ties to people like the former governor (Jim Folsom), and he's particularly close to the former attorney general (Jimmy Evans),'' Smith said.
      "He's close to many members of the Senate for example, John Teague, a former member of the Senate. He just knows numerous people in administrative and legislative positions,'' Smith said.
       While he mainly has worked outside of public office, Hamner has served on the state Board of Corrections, having been appointed in 1977 by then-Gov. George Wallace. He left the Board of Corrections in 1979, when Gov. Fob James first took office. 
       Folsom appointed Hamner to the Alabama Aeronautics Commission, a position he no longer holds. That commission's former director protested, saying the appointment was illegal because state law prohibits naming a felon to public office.
       Prior to the last election, Hamner was more than close with at least two public officials. James Hamner, one of the top administrators in Evans' attorney general's office, is his son. So, too, is Billy Hamner, an appointee on the Public Service Commission, the state board that monitors utilities, including prison telephone service providers. Billy Hamner later became an administrator in the state auditor's office.
      Balch & Bingham, Alabama's second-largest law firm, at times employs consultants, Smith said. But he said he could not confirm or deny that his firm hired Hamner.
      "We have clients in the banking industry, in insurance, in medical services, and in public utilities, like Alabama Power. The only shield I put up, or guard, is because I feel like I'm talking about my law firm's clients' business,'' Smith said.
       Balch & Bingham, like South Central Bell, VictoryLand dog track and others, appears on client lists of Hamner's found in the statements of economic interest that his wife, Kathleen, files every April with the Alabama Ethics Commission.
      Mrs. Hamner works as an administrator at Trenholm State Technical College, and, like most state employees, is required to file a statement of economic interest each year. Mrs. Hamner is bound by law to provide a complete list of her spouse's income sources.
      Mrs. Hamner said she doesn't fill out her husband's portion of her financial disclosures. ``He adds what he does on there for himself,'' she said.
      Beside each company or law firm name, Hamner described his work as either consultant or employee, in most cases as consultant. Neither Hamner nor his attorney could be reached this week despite repeated calls to their offices.
       The forms filed by Mrs. Hamner cover the years 1991 through 1994. The 1994 files were turned in this April. Any work in 1995 wouldn't appear.

      Some of the clients listed on Mrs. Hamner's report said he didn't work for them; or they didn't return repeated calls in which the nature of the inquiry was left with a secretary; or they declined to confirm that they'd hired him. 
      Others hesitated before saying Hamner worked for them as a political consultant.
      "Who told you? Was it an attorney?'' asked Bill Todd, the corporate spokesman for South Central Bell.
      Todd said he'd call back with an answer, which he did. 
      "Buddy Hamner is a consultant for South Central Bell. He is not a lobbyist. He provides advice and counsel on the political process,'' Todd said.
      Todd declined to elaborate on Hamner's role with the company, nor would he say how much Bell has paid Hamner in the four years he has worked for the phone company as a consultant.
      A spokeswoman for Alabama racetrack owner Milton McGregor said last week that Hamner did not work for McGregor as a lobbyist. The spokeswoman would not address whether Hamner worked for McGregor as a consultant. McGregor did not return repeated calls Tuesday and Wednesday.
       Hamner, whose office is in the same building as McGregor's, is not a lobbyist. Lobbyists are required to register with the state Ethics Commission. 
       The companies and firms listed by Mrs. Hamner's husband on her forms and the years covered include: 
       -- South Central Bell (1991-94). 
       -- VictoryLand, (1991-94). 
       -- Balch & Bingham, (1991-94). 
       -- Waste-Away (now called Durjac II), a garbage disposal/landfill business recently purchased by landfill giant Chemical Waste Management (1993-94). 
      -- Tom Coker and Associates, the high-powered lobbying firm that represents, among others, Alabama Power, the University of South Alabama and casino gambling interests (1994). 
      -- Kaufman & Rothfeder, a Montgomery law firm (1994). 
      -- National Telcoin, the prison phone company Hamner founded in 1989 with former state auditor Terry Ellis (1991). 
     -- Boyett Brothers, a Montgomery automobile towing company (1992). William T. Boyett, the owner of Boyett Brothers, joined Hamner as a partner in National Telcoin in 1991. The business later was sold to a Florida company.
        None of Hamner's clients would specify what they paid for his services. In each case, Hamner checked the highest-paying classification on the statements of economic interest, meaning he was paid $10,000 or more per year for each company or firm listed for that year. 
        That could mean he was paid $10,001 by a company, or it could mean $100,000, or more. 
        Coker, the Montgomery lobbyist, said Hamner worked for him last year. 
        "I wouldn't really call him a consultant with me, but on occasion I've asked him to help me on different projects,'' Coker said. ``We have had a business relationship. I guess that would be the second time in 10 or 12 years I've had him doing things for me.''
       Attorney Samuel Kaufman of Kaufman & Rothfeder said he wasn't aware of any work Hamner had done for his firm. Told that Hamner had listed at least $10,000 received from Kaufman & Rothfeder in 1994, Kaufman said he would check with his bookkeeper.
        "He's never been an employee or consultant for us I'm positive he's been neither,'' Kaufman said when called back. ``I cannot say if he's ever received a check from the firm, because we could have done a transaction where he received a check.'' 
       The November election severed many of Hamner's political connections. Democrats Folsom and Evans were defeated. James Hamner, as an Evans' hire, was not kept on by new Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a Republican. James Hamner now works as a lobbyist for John Teague's lobbying firm, and shares an office with his father.
         "My recollection is that he ( Buddy Hamner ) hasn't done any work for me since on or about when the administration changed,'' said Durwood Jackson, owner of Durjac II. 
        Hamner is a former owner of National Telcoin, a prison telephone company he founded in 1989 with former state auditor Terry Ellis. William Boyett, owner of one of the companies on the client lists, later purchased the business, and sold it to a Florida company. 
        ``I really, I'm not going to talk with you about it, because I have no good information,'' Boyett said of why his company was on the list. ``I don't have anything to say to you.'' 
        National Telcoin had close ties with Global TelLink, the company once owned by former Mobile County Commissioner Dan Wiley.
        Global, the Wiley-run company that operated in partnership with National Telcoin, is the focus of an FBI investigation and a fraud lawsuit filed in federal court by Global's new owners, Schlumberger Technologies. 
       Last summer, Evans launched an investigation into National Telcoin for allegedly fraudulent billing practices. At the time, James Hamner was a top administrator in Evans' office, directing the administrative division in charge of budgeting, inventory, and accounting.
      While allegations have been made, neither Hamner nor any other principal in Alabama's prison phone business has faced criminal charges of defrauding customers or evading their income taxes.
      When Evans announced the investigation, former state Sen. Mac Parsons, citing Evans close relationship with Hamner and the fact that he worked with Hamner's son, called on Evans to appoint a special prosecutor. Evans didn't do so.
       Parsons said recently that Internal Revenue Service investigators interviewed him last summer and requested records he had on National Telcoin because of his former membership on the Senate's prison oversight committee.
       In 1982, in a matter unrelated to prison phones, Hamner pleaded guilty to misdemeanor criminal charges of nonpayment of about $75,000 in taxes from the years 1978 and 1979, and was sentenced to five years on probation.

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