By guest blogger Taylor Lewis
Cross-posted from the Digital Education blog
An ed-tech executive was one of a series of witnesses summoned to an Alabama courtroom this week, as state prosecutors pursue a corruption case against one of the state’s most powerful politicians.
Michael Humphrey, executive vice president at Edgenuity, testified in the ethics trial of state House Speaker Mike Hubbard, who is accused in a 23-count indictment of using his clout to attract business for companies he leads.
Humphrey testified that he hired Hubbard on a $7,500-per-month consulting contract to connect him to legislative leaders in other states, as Edgenuity tried to sell digital courses.
“My idea was to use Mike to say, ‘Get me a meeting with this guy, let me go meet him,’ ” Humphrey said, according to the Associated Press.
Humphrey testified that the House Speaker’s work for Edgenuity included calling the then-speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives, Bobby Harrell. It also included reaching out to Auburn University’s athletics director in order to arrange a meeting with a NCAA executive as the company sought permission to sell its products for college athletes, according to the AP.
Hubbard, a Republican, was indicted in 2014 on 23 counts of felony ethics violations on allegations of using his political power to attract business for his companies–the Auburn Network Inc. and Craftmaster Printing.
Based out of Scottsdale, Ariz., Edgenuity provides blended learning programs and virtual instruction for students in grades 6-12.
Since its creation in 1998 as Education2020, the e-learning company has been taken up by districts around the country. Humphrey joined Edgenuity in 2010, a year before the investment firm Weld North Holdings LLC acquired the company for an estimated $50 million. Its current services also include professional development and curriculum planning.
In a response to Hubbard’s motion for clarification of the indictment, prosecutors cited an email in which the legislator told Ferrell Patrick, a lobbyist hired by Edgenuity, that he was “very excited about the opportunity to work with some of your clients and appreciate your assistance.” Alabama ethics law states that public officials cannot take a “thing of value” from a person or business that employs lobbyists.
Edgenuity officials, in an e-mail to Education Week, declined to comment on the trial. Edgenuity is the only education company listed in the indictment as having done business with Hubbard. The others include a state utility company and a national group-purchasing organization for independent pharmacies.
While prosecutors argue that Hubbard’s activities violated the state’s ethics law, Hubbard contends that the investments and contracts were legal according to state exemptions for gifts “motivated by friendship” and business done “in the ordinary course of employment or non-governmental business activity.”
The witnesses in Hubbard’s trial, which began on May 24, have included Republican Gov. Robert Bentley and former state ethics commission director, Jim Sumner.
Bentley testified that he saw no wrongdoing in Hubbard’s dealings. Sumner declared that Hubbard only sought informal advice from the commission. Sumner stated that despite the fact that Hubbard received advice from him and commission general counsel, Hugh Evans, the House Speaker cannot claim the same legal protections that a formal opinion would have offered.
If convicted, Hubbard faces up to 20 years in jail and fines that could reach $30,000.
Photo: Alabama Speaker Mike Hubbard and his wife, Susan Hubbard, walk to court for the start of the second week of his ethics trial this week in Opelika, Ala. –Todd J. Van Emst/Opelika-Auburn News via AP