|Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford is accused of accepting bribes. (Associated Press/ File 2008)|
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Mayor Larry Langford, who could be tossed out of office and go to prison if convicted of federal bribery charges, recently offered some advice to a new Birmingham City Council member.
“The illusion of power is the most dangerous drug on the planet,’’ Langford said. “A little bit of power - nothing intoxicates like it.’’
Last week’s comment may sound a lot like the government’s opening argument against Langford, 61. Jury selection begins today.
Prosecutors claim a greedy, power-drunk Langford accepted bribes totaling some $235,000 - a chunk of it for upscale clothes and jewelry - while serving as president of the Jefferson County Commission before he was elected mayor. In exchange, they say, Langford steered $7.1 million in bond business to a political crony’s investment banking firm.
Those bond deals and others turned sour during the credit crunch and brought on a financial crisis that has pushed Alabama’s most populous county to the brink of filing what would be the largest municipal bankruptcy in US history. The current commissioners have repeatedly extended credit agreements as they struggle to pay back $3.9 billion.
Charged with multiple felony counts of bribery, conspiracy, fraud, money laundering, and tax violations, Langford automatically would be removed from office if convicted of even one count.
Defense attorney Michael Rasmussen laughed at the possibility of a guilty plea, saying Langford “maintains he is innocent and expects to get a fair trial.’’