A Grovetown city councilman accused of bribery in Alabama defended himself Thursday on the federal charges he is facing.
Leland J. “Sonny” McDowell, who pleaded not guilty to the charges June 15, is accused of offering a kickback to a former Alabama Department of Public Safety employee in 2007.
“I am not guilty,” McDowell said. “I intend to defend myself through this process with everything that I have. … I have tremendous confidence in this country’s justice system for the most part. I’m going to defend myself and I fully expect, at the end of this, to be cleared.”
McDowell and James E. Potts, of Montgomery, Ala., face two counts in a four-count indictment alleging bribery related to a program receiving federal money, according to a statement from the U.S. District Attorney’s Office Middle District of Alabama.
Part of Potts’ public safety job in July 2007 was helping the Alabama Department of Human Resources solicit bids for an electronic fingerprint system. The agency received more than $10,000 in federal money that fiscal year, according to the indictment.
McDowell is the owner of Southern Detention Technologies Inc., which sells fingerprint machines. McDowell said he sold the department a machine to be used for fingerprint-based background checks on people who were going to work with children, the elderly and other vulnerable people.
“It was a different type of project altogether,” McDowell said. “We were pioneering that program in Alabama. That’s really all I want to say at this point. It was more than sales of equipment.“
The indictment accuses McDowell of offering and giving Potts a $1,700 check and $1 for every fingerprint scan run related to the DHR, “intending to influence and reward James Potts in connection with a transaction and series of transactions of DHR involving $5,000 or more” related to the machine, according to the indictment.
Potts faces two charges of bribery for accepting the check and per-scan fee “intending to be influenced and rewarded” in connection to the machine purchase, according to the indictment.
McDowell said he’s been aware of an investigation since December 2008, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office requested information and conducted a face-to-face interview with him since then.
“I knew (an indictment) was possible,” McDowell said. “I didn’t think it was likely.”
A trial is tentatively set for December. If convicted, McDowell and Potts would face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Grovetown Mayor George James said he and other city leaders were shocked by the indictment. McDowell was elected to the city council in late 2009. His four-year term ends at the end of next
McDowell will remain on the council because the indictment is only an accusation. If he is convicted of or pleads guilty to charges, he’ll be removed from the council, James said.
“I do not intend to make any change,” McDowell said. “I intend to champion Grovetown as I have for the last several years on into the future and certainly for the next several months as I defend this.”
McDowell is the founder of the now-defunct Grovetown Merchants Association and spearheaded the city’s effort to revitalize downtown Grovetown through the city’s Urban Redevelopment
He said he hopes his personal troubles don’t overshadow the city and the good work being done there.
“Grovetown has tremendous potential to be a beautiful place to live and work,” McDowell said.
He urged his fellow city leaders and residents to continue the improvements.
“Just don’t lose the vision,” McDowell said. “Don’t lose the energy. Just keep plowing away. We’ve made good progress, but we have a long way to go.”