A Grovetown City Councilman accused of bribery in Alabama spoke out Thursday about the federal charges against him.
Leland J. “Sonny” McDowell, who pled not guilty to the charges on June 15, is accused of offering a kickback to a former Alabama Department of Public Safety employee in 2007.
“I am not guilty,” McDowell said. “I intend to defend myself through this process with everything that I have. ... I have tremendous confidence in this country’s justice system for the most part. I’m going to defend myself and I fully expect, at the end of this, to be cleared.”
McDowell and James E. Potts, of Montgomery, Ala., face a four-count indictment alleging bribery related to a program receiving federal funds, according to a statement from the U.S. District Attorney’s Office Middle District of Alabama.
Part of Potts’ public safety job in July 2007 was helping the Alabama Department of Human Resources solicit bids for an electronic fingerprint system. McDowell is owner of Southern Detention Technologies Inc., which sells fingerprint machines. McDowell said he sold the department a machine to be used for fingerprint-based background checks on people who were going to work with children, the elderly and otherwise vulnerable people.
“It was a different type of project altogether,” McDowell said. “We were pioneering that program in Alabama. That’s really all I want to say at this point. It was more than sales of equipment.“
The indictment accused McDowell of offering and Potts accepting a $1,700 check and $1 for every fingerprint scan run related to the DHR, according to the statement. McDowell said he’s been aware of an investigation since December 2008, and the U.S. Attorney’s office requested information and conducted a face-to-face interview with him since then.
“I knew (an indictment) was possible,” McDowell said. “I didn’t think it was
McDowell denied the charges and denied knowingly doing anything illegal. It’s been about five years since the incident, but McDowell said he doesn’t know what spurred the investigation or why it has taken officials so long to act on the investigation.
McDowell said his Alabama-based attorney advised him not to speak to the media. But McDowell agreed to speak to The News-Times and said he’s being cautious and not divulging details of the incident.
A trial tentatively is set for December. If convicted, McDowell and Potts face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Grovetown Mayor George James said he and other city leaders were shocked by the indictment. McDowell was elected to the City Council in late 2009. His four-year term ends at the end of next year.
McDowell will remain on City Council, as the indictment is only an accusation. If McDowell is convicted of or pleads guilty to charges, he’ll be removed from the council, James said.
“I do not intend to make any change,” McDowell said. “I intend to champion Grovetown as I have for the last several years on into the future, and certainly for the next several months as I defend this.
“My attitude toward Grovetown, my vision for Grovetown and my drive to see that vision come to reality is not diminished in the least,” he said.
McDowell is the founder of the now-defunct Grovetown Merchants Association and spearheaded the city’s ongoing effort to revitalize downtown Grovetown through the city’s Urban Redevelopment Plan.
McDowell said he’s not worried about people’s reaction to him, but is concerned about potentially tarnishing the perceived integrity of public officials.
He said he hopes his personal troubles don’t overshadow the city and the good work being done there.
“Grovetown has tremendous potential to be a beautiful place to live and work,” McDowell said. “I don’t want the vision for Grovetown to get caught up in all of this. ... I love Grovetown and I want to see it thrive and be all that it can be.”
McDowell encouraged his fellow city leaders and Grovetown residents to continue the ongoing improvements.
“Just don’t lose the vision,” McDowell said. “Don’t lose the energy. Just keep plowing away. We’ve made good progress, but we have a long way to go.”