Ben Richey's arrest
According to a Monday press release from U.S. Attorney Alice Martin, Russellville attorney Ben Richey was recently indicted by a federal grand jury on one count of making a false statement to a federal agent.
Early Monday morning, Richey was arrested by FBI agents, handcuffed on the steps of the Franklin County Courthouse, and escorted to Huntsville to appear before a federal magistrate. Even earlier Monday morning, television and print media reporters were camped out on the steps of the courthouse, patiently waiting for the big arrest.
According to an e-mail from Martin, it is her office policy to release no information about a case or pending arrest before the arrest is made.
The logical inference in this case is that her policy was violated by someone who apparently tipped the media to be present to document the arrest.
Richey's attorney, Walter Braswell, said he was in negotiation with government agents as recently as last Friday attempting to reach a settlement on Richey's case, and Braswell said he was totally unaware an arrest was pending. He protested that Richey, a respected member of the community, was arrested like a "bank robber or terrorist" on the street.
The view from here is that Braswell is correct.
Richey maintains an office just across the block from the courthouse. One can only imagine that he has been in that office in recent days during normal business hours, preparing for the jury trials he was scheduled to try this week. But federal agents waited until the morning of jury selection, ensuring a large crowd of local citizens, to arrest Richey, with the previously-assembled media getting a good view as well.
The handcuffs seemed like overkill also - it would seem unlikely that Richey was going to wrest free of the agents and flee on foot.
Richey was later set free on a $500 unsecured bond (an I.O.U. of sorts, stating that if the defendant misses a court date, he owes the government $500.) One can only assume the magistrate didn't consider Richey to be quite the desperate criminal the agents deemed him to be.
Martin's press release also stated that Alabama Assistant Attorney General John Gibbs is assisting in this case. Richey marks the fourth Democratic elected official (current or former) to be investigated by Gibbs in the past two years, following on the heels of Don Siegelman, Roger Bedford and John Pilati.
A jury will later determine if Richey is guilty of his charges. We hope the system runs its proper course. But unfortunately, Monday's grand-standing and overly dramatic arrest only serve to reenforce the idea held and expressed by many county residents that there are motives at play from the government other than merely seeing justice served.
FCT Managing Editor