A jury convicted a Grovetown city councilman of federal bribery charges Thursday.
Leland J. “Sonny” McDowell was convicted on two counts of bribery after a three-day trial in Montgomery, Ala., according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Clark Morris, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office for the Middle District of Alabama.
“We are just shell-shocked,” McDowell said in a phone interview Thursday. “This is not what anyone expected up until the moment of the verdict.”
Testimony ended Wednesday afternoon, and the jury deliberated several hours Thursday before reaching the verdict.
McDowell said he plans to return home Monday, when he will resign from the city council. He can’t serve on the council after being convicted of a felony.
“He’ll have to resign, and we’ll have to fill his seat until November when the election comes up,” Mayor George James said.
McDowell was elected to the council in 2009. The council re-elected him in January as mayor pro tempore.
Because there is less than a year left of his term, city officials can appoint a replacement, James said.
McDowell had pleaded not guilty to charges of offering a kickback to a former Alabama Department of Public Safety employee in 2007. James Potts, of Montgomery, who was also indicted, pleaded guilty Monday and testified against McDowell, Morris said.
Part of Potts’ public safety job in July 2007 was helping the Alabama Department of Human Resources solicit bids for an electronic fingerprint system. At that time, McDowell owned Southern Detention Technologies, which sold fingerprint machines. He is now the owner of Grayco Detention Equipment.
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.
The federal grand jury’s June indictment accused him of offering Potts a $1,700 check and $1 for every fingerprint scan related to the DHR, according to the statement.
McDowell faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each charge, Morris said. McDowell said he was released on his previous bond and was told to expect a sentencing hearing to be scheduled in about 90 days.
“I’m really disappointed, knowing the background and how everything went down, how anybody in the world could convict him for it,” James said.