by Alander Rocha, Alabama Reflector
Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, was taken into custody Monday for contacting another person connected to his indictment on obstruction of justice charges.
Magistrate Judge Staci G. Cornelius told Rogers, the longest serving member of the Alabama house, that she “very plainly” and “very clearly” told Rogers that he could not contact anyone associated with the case.
She said that when she asked Rogers if he understood her, he “without hesitation,” said yes.
Rogers remained quiet throughout the hearing.
Rogers pleaded not guilty to two counts of obstruction of justice on allegations that he diverted public money from a youth baseball league to an assistant. Rogers, the longest serving member of the Alabama House, was released on a $5,000 bond.
One of the conditions for being released was that Rogers were not to contact or attempt to contact anyone involved in the case.
Carlos Chaverst, a spokesperson Rogers retained during the legal proceedings, said after the hearing that Rogers’ call to Individual #1 was “an honest mistake.” Chaverst identified Individual #1 as George Stewart and said Rogers meant to call his accountant when he asked his phone to call, whose last name is also Stewart.
“He called his phone and said, ‘Hey, Facetime Stewart, or call Steward, and the first Stewart that popped up was unfortunately, one of the witnesses in the case,” Chaverst said. He also said there are four Stewarts in Rogers’ phone but declined to identify the accountant by first name.
According to U.S. Assistant Attorney George Martin, Rogers made two Facetime calls that Individual #1, or George Stewart, did not pick up. Individual #1 then notified the FBI that Rogers attempted to contact them.
“He’s 82 years old, and we can’t expect an 82-year-old — or I don’t expect an 82-year-old man or woman or anyone to be able to use their cell phone at ease or without issues all the time,” he said.
It is not immediately clear where Rogers would be held. Chaverst said there are two places where federal inmates are held in Jefferson County, either the Jefferson County Jail or the Birmingham City Jail.
The indictment accuses Rogers, who has served in the Alabama House for over 40 years, of directing hundreds of thousands of dollars for public projects in Jefferson County to a youth baseball league, with a portion of the money being kicked back to Varrie Johnson Kindall, an administrative assistant the indictment accuses Rogers of having a romantic relationship with.
Prosecutors also accused Rogers of attempting to convince a person identified as “Individual #1” to give false information to criminal investigators with the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) looking into the transactions.
Rogers’ indictment came months after former Rep. Fred Plump, D-Fairfield, the director of the Piper Davis Youth Baseball League, pleaded guilty to similar charges over the use of public money.
In late May, the Department of Justice (DOJ) accused Plump, a freshman representative, of taking money from the Jefferson County fund under the direction of another Jefferson County legislator identified as “Legislator #1” and kicking back a portion of it to a legislator’s assistant.
Rogers said at the time he was “probably” the unnamed “Legislator #1,” but maintained his innocence.
According to the indictment, between fiscal year 2018 and fiscal year 2022, Rogers received $500,000 from the Jefferson County Community Service Fund for Jefferson County programs. Prosecutors accuse Rogers of moving approximately $400,000 of that discretionary funds to the Piper Davis Youth Baseball League. In turn, Plump gave approximately $200,000 to Kindall. Kindall was previously identified as “Individual #1” in Plump’s DOJ charges.
Rogers also moved money from the fund to “Organization #1.” The organization founder, “Individual #1,” then gave a portion of that money to Kindall.
Rogers has served in the Alabama House since 1982. He ran unopposed in the previous two elections. In 2014, he was challenged by Republican Phillip Bahakel but won with almost 77% of the vote.
Rogers is the third representative to face criminal charges this year. Rep. David Cole, R-Huntsville, pleaded guilty to a voting fraud charge and resigned in August after acknowledging he did not live in House district at the time he was elected.
The hearing will continue Thursday at 1:30 p.m.