Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Wallace State president testifies former Alabama college chancellor did not order her to hire accused contractor

Published: Monday, November 01, 2010, 7:08 PM ??? Updated: Monday, November 01, 2010, 7:09 PM

An Alabama community college president testified in federal court today that former Alabama two-year college chancellor Roy Johnson did not direct or coerce her into hiring Tuscaloosa contractor Roger Taylor's company for a construction project on campus.

Taylor is on trial in federal court in Tuscaloosa. He is charged in a bribery conspiracy to influence Johnson in the awarding of community college contracts to his company, Hall-Taylor Construction, by paying for appliances, doors and windows, and some constructions costs on a house Johnson was building in Opelika in 2004.

Vicki Hawsey, president of Wallace State Community College in Hanceville, testified today she had entertained proposals from Hall-Taylor Construction and one other company for the job of managing construction on a proposed $12 million project to build a fine arts center on the campus.

Hawsey said she was already leaning toward hiring Hall-Taylor when she asked Johnson about the two firms. Johnson told her that Hall-Taylor was doing a good job on another project for the two-year college system and recommended she hire that firm, she said.

But Hawsey said during questioning by one of Taylor's defense attorneys, Augusta Dowd, that Johnson did not coerce, order, or direct her to hire Hall-Taylor Construction in March 2005.

The construction management contract with Hall-Taylor was later cancelled when the project was delayed after construction bids came in higher than expected. The project has since been built.

Hawsey said during questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Pat Meadows that she was hired in 2003 in a process that involved Johnson and the board that oversees the two-year college system. Prosecutors have repeatedly tried to show that Johnson had a major role as chancellor in the hiring or firing of the college presidents to whom he was recommending Taylor's firm for work. Johnson served as chancellor from 2002 to 2006.

In all, Hall-Taylor got $3.4 million for managing 16 construction projects at nine state community colleges between 2003 and 2006, according to an FBI agent who tallied the contracts during testimony Monday. Hall-Taylor also was paid another $939,832 for construction management work on two other state projects connected to the two-year college system, the FBI agent testified.

One project was a center in Thomasville built to provide training to prisoners about to re-enter the workforce after serving their sentences. The other project was a center in Tuscaloosa that offered state employment and job training services.

The site selected for the Tuscaloosa center was owned by a group of investors that included Taylor. The state leases the site from the investment group for $11,475 a month, according to testimony during the trial.

Brenda Truelove, site manager of the Tuscaloosa Career Center, testified that Johnson was the one who picked the site. But she said she was happy with the location that was chosen.

Johnson has pleaded guilty to charges involving Taylor and similar charges involving others, and as part of his plea agreement agreed to testify. He is to be sentenced Nov. 18. Also under his plea agreement, prosecutors won't prosecute members of Johnson's family as long as Johnson cooperates and testifies truthfully.

Taylor's trial is scheduled to resume at 10 a.m. Tuesday. Chief U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn said she will let the jury go early Tuesday so they can vote.

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