Former governor Ray Blanton, booted from office in 1979 during a clemency-for-cash scandal, was convicted last night of using his influence as governor to peddle liquor licenses to his friends.
The seven-woman, five-man federal jury found Blanton, 51, guilty of one count each of extortion and conspiracy and nine counts of mail fraud after 45 hours of deliberations over six days. Blanton could be sentenced to 70 years in prison and fined $29,000.
The jury earlier in the day convicted two former Blanton aides charged in the liquor-license conspiracy scheme: Jim Allen, 52, and Clyde Edd Hood, 28.
Federal prosecutors claimed the three corruptly used their influence to obtain 12 liquor licenses for friends from the state Alcohol Beverage Commission during Blanton's term.
Blanton was alleged to have received a $23,334.50 payoff from one of the 12, Jack Hamm. Ham, a millionaire and one of the largest contributors to Blanton's 1974 campaign for governor, was the chief prosecution witness.
Blanton's term came to an abrupt end in January, 1979, two days after he granted executive clemency to 52 convicted felons and a month after the FBI arrested his legal counsel and the state's extradictions officer on racketeering charges for allegedly arranging to reduce convicts' sentences for cash profits.
No charges were filed against Blanton in the clemency investigation.
Blanton swore that he "never took a dime" from Ham or anyone else for liquor licenses. The defense maintained throughout the trial that Blanton and his aides were simply taking care of their friends through patronage and were never involved in any illegal activities.