BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The driver for former two-year college system Chancellor Roy Johnson pleaded guilty Wednesday to obstructing a federal investigation by lying about corrupt financial deals.
Lanier Robert Higgins, 50, of Wedowee, admitted giving false testimony to a federal grand jury in 2006. He faces up to 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.
The plea agreement filed Wednesday states that Johnson directed Higgins to receive money from vendors who did business with the Alabama Department of Postsecondary Education and pass the money to him. Johnson allegedly used the money to pay personal expenses — namely construction costs for a home he was building in Opelika.
U.S. Attorney Alice Martin announced the plea and called the scale of the corruption “staggering.”
“Obstructing a grand jury will not be tolerated,” she said in a statement.
According to the deal, the men became acquainted in the mid 1990s when Higgins did freelance painting and carpentry at Johnson’s lake house on Lake Martin and he later did work on the former chancellor’s Gulf Shores condo, Mountain condo in Tennessee and his private residence in Opelika, Ala.
Higgins had been a maintenance worker at Southern Union Community College when Johnson arranged for him to get a new position within the postsecondary department in late 2004.
According to prosecutors, the new job came with several perks, including a raise from about $32,500 to about $54,000, rent-free living in the president’s house on the campus of SUCC, increased accrual of leave and no requirement to file required leave and attendance documents for time off work.
Higgins mainly worked as Johnson’s driver and personal assistant. When the fraud was discovered, the two created a false cover story to explain some of the money paid by vendors to Higgins.
He then testified falsely to a grand jury in Birmingham, but later recanted and began cooperating with the U.S. investigation.
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