BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — State Sen. E.B. McClain was indicted Thursday on bribery, conspiracy and other federal charges accusing him of pocketing more than $300,000 in government money routed through a nonprofit organization.
McClain, 68, already faces state theft charges in the case that stemmed from an investigation into corruption and cronyism in Alabama’s two-year college system.
U.S. Attorney Alice Martin said the Midfield Democrat used “pass-through pork” and the two-year college system to direct $751,245 in grants to the Heritage to Hope Foundation, Inc., an organization headed by the Rev. Samuel Pettagrue.
Pettagrue, 65, of Leeds, was also named in the 50-count indictment that includes charges of mail fraud and money laundering. Pettagrue is accused of passing along $305,000 to McClain as payment for helping secure government funds for the foundation.
The prosecutor said the bribes were fraudulently labeled as “consulting fees” or “wages” and that McClain did little or no consulting work for the foundation.
“My reaction is not guilty,” said McClain, who was in Montgomery for a special legislative session.
The senator said he expected the federal indictment and planned to turn himself in “rather than be handcuffed and hauled away.”
“I’m a little bit relieved because we knew it was coming,” he said. “I want to get started with the process and go about clearing my name.”
Pettagrue’s attorney, Richard Jaffe, did not immediately return a message left at his office.
The alleged fraud occurred from April 2001 through November 2006 and began with McClain securing discretionary fund grants from the Legislature, also known as “pass-through pork,” for Pettagrue’s organization.
Prosecutors claim the scheme shifted to issuing grants through the two-year college system after stronger restrictions were put on the use of pass-through grants in 2003.
According to the indictment, the first grant was $65,000 from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs for senior citizen projects and educational outreach in the Birmingham area.
Heritage to Hope was awarded the funds on May 17, 2001. Pettagrue is accused of causing a check for $8,000 to be written to McClain the next day.
Four other grants ranging from $65,000 to $100,000 were awarded to Heritage to Hope in this way, with McClain receiving between $13,500 to $48,000 from each, Martin said.
The Department of Postsecondary Education grants were given to Bessemer State Technical College so it could offer an online General Equivalency Diploma program.
To get the grant, Bessemer had to commit to a partnership with a faith-based community organization to assist with the program. McClain is accused of working to ensure Heritage to Hope would be selected.
The prosecutor said the foundation received two contracts for $100,000 and a third for $130,000 to help market and run the online GED program.
McClain said he had never considered the consulting agreement with Pettagrue’s organization to be crossing the line.
“It was a legal arrangement,” he said.
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