BY PHILLIP RAWLS
MONTGOMERY, Ala. —
Lowell Barron, who used to be one of Alabama's most powerful state senators, and one of his former campaign aides were charged Tuesday with misusing campaign funds, authorities said.
Attorney General Luther Strange announced that a DeKalb County grand jury had indicted Barron, D-Fyffe, and former campaign aide Rhonda Jill Johnson of Scottsboro on six counts of ethics charges and campaign finance law charges.
Barron, 71, and Johnson, 47, are accused of diverting $58,000 from Barron's campaign account for Johnson's personal use and for non-campaign uses. They are also accused of transferring a 2007 Toyota Camry from campaign property to Johnson for non-campaign purposes.
DeKalb County Sheriff Jimmy Harris said Barron turned himself in Tuesday afternoon in Fort Payne and was released on $10,000 bond. He said Johnson was arrested and bond was set at $10,000. Barron, who was seriously injured in a tractor accident in November, was wearing a neck brace when he surrendered.
"I am saddened to stand here before you today the victim of a vicious witch hunt by Luther Strange from Montgomery. If it had taken my life during my injury, it would not have been worse than Luther Strange trying to take my good name," he said.
His attorney, Joe Espy, said Barron reported all the transactions on his campaign finance reports, and they were legitimate transactions to pay Johnson for her work. Espy portrayed the charges as a witch hunt by the Republican attorney general to keep Barron from returning to politics.
The attorney general had no comment beyond a short statement announcing the indictments.
Barron, a pharmacist and real estate developer, served as mayor of Fyffe before being elected to the Senate in 1982 as a Democrat. When all senators had to run in a court-ordered special election in 1983, the Democratic Party dumped Barron, but he got re-elected as a write-in candidate, which was a first for the state Senate.
He soon rejoined the Democratic Party and moved up the ranks in the Democrat-dominated Senate, serving as president pro tem from 1998 to 2006 and Senate Rules Committee chairman from 2006 to 2010.
In 2007, he gained worldwide attention when Republican Sen. Charles Bishop of Jasper punched him on the Senate floor after the two exchanged words. Video of the punch became a hit on YouTube. Barron did not press charges.
Barron lost his re-election bid in 2010 to Republican newcomer Shadrack McGill. Campaign finance records show Barron spent nearly $1.6 million in that election, when Johnson was helping him, and McGill spent $124,915.
Barron also served as a trustee of Auburn University from 1993 to 2003.
Barron's last campaign finance report in 2012 showed he had $464,483 remaining in his campaign fund, but Espy said any discussion of returning to politics has been put on hold because of Barron's serious injuries.
If convicted, Barron and Johnson face up to 20 years in prison and up to $30,000 in fines on each count.