Alabama’s “Love Gov” is governor no more.
Gov. Robert Bentley resigned Monday evening amid an ethics investigation into his relationship with a female staffer and his illegal efforts to conceal it. He also pleaded guilty to two campaign-finance misdemeanor violations.
Bentley admitted guilt to one count of failure to disclose information on a statement of economic interest, and one count for failure to file campaign finance reports. The disgraced ex-governor will surrender more than $36,000 in campaign funds and serve 100 hours’ worth of public service. He will not be able to seek public office again.
Bentley’s public troubles started last March, when he fired Alabama Law Enforcement Agency head Spencer Collier. A day later, Collier announced that the 74-year-old Bentley had been having an affair with Rebekah Mason, a much younger, married woman who had worked on Bentley’s election campaign and was then serving as his aide. A humiliating recording soon emerged of the governor telling a woman, identified as Mason, how much he liked touching her breasts. That recording soon earned Bentley the nickname “Love Gov.”
In April 2016, the state’s House of Representatives launched impeachment proceedings against Bentley. Last week, the Alabama Ethics Commission found it was likely that Bentley had violated one count of the ethics law and three counts of campaign-finance law, all Class B felonies punishable by two to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000.
On Friday, the House Judiciary Committee released a 123-page summary of a report describing, in salacious and blistering detail, the evolution of Bentley and Mason’s alleged affair and how it led Bentley to break laws and compromise several ethical rules.
When Bentley grew suspicious that Collier had incriminating recordings of the affair, he placed Collier on medical leave before ultimately firing him, the report alleges. The governor said that Collier had misused state funds, though Collier has since been cleared of any wrongdoing.
“To ensure the silence of his staff, Governor Bentley encouraged an atmosphere of intimidation,” the report reads. “Concern over the recordings appears to have become an obsession. Meanwhile, Mason enjoyed a favored spot on his staff, exercising extraordinary policy authority while receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from Governor Bentley’s campaign account and from an apparently lawful but shadowy nonprofit.”
In his efforts to keep the relationship hidden, Bentley allegedly directed law enforcement officers like Collier to investigate and intimidate people who learned of the affair. Bentley even had one officer try to break off the affair with Mason on his behalf, according to the report.
In the end, it was Bentley’s own ineptness that exposed him. “If Governor Bentley meant to hide his affair from his wife, he did not do it well,” the report says, pointing out that Bentley had once accidentally texted his wife, Dianne, a message that said “I love you Rebekah,” with a red rose emoji.
Bentley also gave his wife an iPad linked to his iCloud, apparently unaware that it would allow her to read all the incriminating texts he had sent to Mason. The pair are now divorced.
For his crimes, Bentley faces a 30-day suspended sentence and 12 months of unsupervised probation. That probation will end once Bentley finishes his public service and pays back more than $36,000.
Alabama’s Lieutenant Gov. Kay Ivey is expected to be sworn in by the acting chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. The actual Supreme Court chief justice, Roy Moore, is currently suspended for suspected ethics violations.