The commission offered few details about the decision, which came after a year-long probe into allegations that Bentley used campaign money and state resources to carry on an affair with Rebekah Caldwell Mason, a former aide.
The scandal broke in March 2016, when Bentley abruptly fired the state’s law enforcement secretary, who went on to tell local media that he could prove the governor was having an affair. Shortly after, AL.com published a secret audio recording of Bentley having a sexually explicit conversation with a woman named “Rebekah,” as The Washington Post has reported. Mason resigned shortly after the recording emerged.
Bentley has denied that he broke the law.
In a 4-0 vote Wednesday, the commission found probable cause that Bentley used funds from his campaign to cover legal fees for Mason, according to AL.com. In three other votes, the commission also found probable cause that the governor used public resources for personal interests, received a campaign contribution outside the time frame allowed by state law, and made an illegal loan to his campaign, AL.com reported.
Each of the four violations is a Class B felony, carrying a prison sentence between two and 20 years, and a fine of up to $20,000 per count.
The commission said it reached its conclusions after interviewing more than 45 witnesses and analyzing more than 33,000 documents. It said it was barred from discussing any of the evidence presented in the case because the matter was ongoing.
Bentley’s attorney, Bill Athanas, told the Associated Press on Wednesday that the governor maintained his innocence and said there was no basis for the district attorney to bring charges.
“We disagree strongly with the result, but I think it is important to keep in mind that it is a finding of probable cause, not finding of a violation,” Athanas told the Associated Press. “The battle goes on.”
Rumors that Bentley was having an affair with Mason spread after his wife of 50 years filed for divorce in August 2015, as The Post has reported. The following March, Bentley fired Alabama Law Enforcement Secretary Spencer Collier, his former friend. Collier then went public with the affair allegations.
In the secret recording of Bentley, reportedly taped by family members, the governor can be heard professing his love for a woman named Rebekah and talking about putting his hands on her breasts.
After the recording was released, Bentley admitted to having made sexually explicit remarks to a staffer but insisted that the relationship was never physical.
“At times in the past, have I said things that I should not have said?” he told reporters last March. “Absolutely. That’s what I’m saying today.”
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