Alabama lawmaker jailed for FaceTiming a witness in bribery trial

The congressman’s representatives claim the call was an ‘honest mistake’

Graig Graziosi
Tuesday 31 October 2023 19:40 GMT
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Louise Thomas

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A federal judge ordered Alabama Congressman John Rogers to be jailed for violating his bond after he allegedly contacted a witness in his bribery case.

US Magistrate Judge Staci Cornelius placed Mr Rogers into US Marshal custody on Tuesday at the federal courthouse in Birmingham, according to AL.com.

Mr Rogers, 82, was charged by a federal grand jury with obstruction of justice and obstruction of justice by bribery in September. The charges allege that Mr Rogers offered to pay the founder of a nonprofit public funds to lie to the FBI about a kickback scheme involving tax dollars.

The congressman has served in the state's legislature for more than 40 years.

The judge's ruling likely comes as a relief to federal prosecutors, who asked that the congressman be jailed after the learned he allegedly violated his bond by conducting a FaceTime call with the founder of the nonprofit after the case was brought before the court.

“I very plainly and clearly instructed Mr Rogers that he was to have no contact with anyone associated to his case,” Ms Cornelius said in court on Tuesday. She said she reviewed an audio recording in which she explicitly told the congressman his bond hinged on his compliance with the condition that he not contact witnesses in his case.

John Robbins, Mr Rogers’ attorney, denied the allegations that his client attempted to contact a witness.

The judge said he could provide evidence that the allegations were false during a hearing on Thursday.

Alabama State Representative John Rogers, 82, has been indicted in a federal kickback scheme that already cost another state lawmaker his seat
Alabama State Representative John Rogers, 82, has been indicted in a federal kickback scheme that already cost another state lawmaker his seat (screengrab/AL.com)

Mr Rogers appeared on a radio show a few hours before his court hearing, during which he denied violating his bond conditions.

“It was an erroneous phone call made by someone,’’ he told Gary Richardson on a WKJLD morning show.

After the ruling, Mr Rogers’ public relations representative Carlos Chaverst told reporters that the lawmaker mistakenly called George Stewart. He said Mr Rogers intended to call his accountant, who reportedly has the same last name as the nonprofit founder.

"It was an honest mistake," he said.

Mr Rogers allegedly sent money to an unnamed nonprofit, called Organization #1 in court documents, using the Jefferson County Community Service Fund. The fund is intended to provide a means for lawmakers to help distribute money to community groups and local governments.

The congressman apparently revealed the name of the group during his radio interview, saying "Organization #1" was the American Gospel Quartet Convention, a music nonprofit based in Birmingham. The group did receive a disbursement from the community service fund in March and November of 2019, which lines up with the indictment's allegations.

Mr Rogers claims the group's founder, George Stewart, is the one making bribery allegations against him.

“George Stewart, he’s the one making allegations that I bribed him. It never happened,” Mr Rogers said during his radio interview. “It was never like he said it was.”

Mr Rogers' assistant, Varrie Johnson Kindall, 58, reportedly took a cut of the $5,000 payment by charing the group an "administration fee," according to court documents.

That cut was what prompted the FBI investigation into the dealings.

Ms Johnson Kindall has bee charged with one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, 11 counts of wire fraud, three counts of mail fraud, one count of money laundering, one count of obstruction of justice, one count of obstruction of justice by bribery, one count of failure to file tax return, and three counts of aiding preparation of false tax return.

She has pleaded not guilty to all of her charges, and called the same radio station where Mr Rogers gave an interview to claim she had no part in the calls to Mr Stewart.

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