Robert Bentley wasn't the first Alabama governor to find himself in trouble with the law

By Diana Pearl
April 11, 2017 05:28 PM
Credit: Albert Cesare/The Montgomery Advertiser via AP

Former Alabama Governor Robert Bentley‘s resignation and subsequent arrest–the result of an affair with one of his staff members and its cover up–is a scandal making national headlines. But its not the first of its kind.

Of the state’s past six governors — Bentley and his successor excluded — three have had dealt with trouble with the law while in office and two have been convicted of crimes, with one serving a prison sentence. Here, a look at Alabama’s controversial governors, and what got them in trouble.

George Wallace and his defense of segregation.

Though he was never convicted of a crime, Wallace made his name in Alabama politics for his flagrant refusal to end segregation in the state. His feelings on the subject of integration were clear from the start: In his 1963 inaugural speech he famously said “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” And he went to great lengths to try to enforce that statement throughout his first term in office, at one point, even defying the White House to do so.

One of his most notorious moments came in 1963, just after his inauguration. John F. Kennedy was president at the time, and he ordered an Army division to enforce integration at the University of Alabama. As a physical act to stop the black students from entering, he stood in the door of a school auditorium in June 1963, an action that became synonymous with Wallace for the rest of his political career. He continued on that crusade later that year, intervening in the enrollment of black students in four different Alabama elementary schools.

Wallace left office in 1967 — but the governorship went to his wife, to whom he served as the de-facto governor. She was ill for the majority of her term in office and she died a year and a half after her inauguration. He then returned to the governor’s mansion for a second term from 1971 to 1979, and then again from 1983 to 1987. By his third term, he was openly apologizing for his past support of segregation: “I was wrong,” he said. “Those days are over, and they ought to be over.”

Harold Guy Hunt and his “love offerings.”

Hunt was a Baptist preacher who took on the governorship in 1987, and remained in office until 1993. Even with his new title, he didn’t abandon his regular “preaching trips,” but instead, used state airplanes to attend them. While he was on these trips, he’d accept “love offerings” — a vague term for monetary gifts, according to the Washington Post.

Rumblings of displeasure and disapproval over these trips started to swell, and Hunt said he’d stop taking them, but the attorney general was already investigating him, which lead to him being indicted on 13 counts. Though most counts were dropped, one was not: Hunt spent $200,000 from a tax-exempt inaugural fund on a lawn mower, a cow and a marble shower for his home bathroom, among other items. He was found guilty of violating state ethics law in April 1993, sentenced to five years probation, 1,000 hours of community service, and to repay the $200,000 he stole — and he was removed from office, too.

With four months left to go on his sentence, he tried to end his probation early, which ended horribly: The judge added five more years, and told him to get a job to pay back the $200,000, as he’d only been paying $100 a month up until then. He didn’t have to serve out the additional years though, as a state parole board wiped the charges later that same year.

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Don Siegelman and his motorcycles.

The last Democrat to serve as Governor of Alabama, Siegelman served in the state’s top spot from 1999 to 2003, and after leaving office, was convicted of bribery, conspiracy and mail fraud and sentenced to seven years and four months in prison. In particular, he was accused of trading government and political favors in exchange for money and motorcycles. His time in prison was filled with scandal as well: He appealed to President Barack Obama for a sentence reduction, which was denied. He had two appeals, too, in 2006 and 2014 — both of which were denied. Siegelman also reportedly was sent to solitary confinement multiple times for conducting interviews from prison that hadn’t been permitted, according to the Washington Post.

He was released from prison earlier this year.