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Another Mysterious Death Darkens the Political Landscape in Karl Rove’s Alabama

Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer

An investigator in the office of Alabama Attorney General Troy King recently died under mysterious circumstances, adding to a growing list of suspicious deaths in the final 12 months or so of Governor Bob Riley’s two terms.

Robert William “Bob” Caviness died on November 15 in Alexander City, Alabama, where he lived. Multiple sources have told Legal Schnauzer that Caviness died from a gunshot wound to the head, and his death apparently is being considered a suicide.

Sources also say that Caviness was friends with Ralph Stacy, a Business Council of Alabama (BCA) executive who was found dead in his office in September from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Caviness and Stacy reportedly shared a common faith and both were lay ministers.

An obvious question: Was Bob Caviness investigating his friend’s death and did he get too close to the truth for someone’s comfort?

Another question: Is this toxic environment a natural by-product of efforts by Karl Rove and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to take over Alabama courts in the 1990s–which served as a precursor to the Don Siegelman prosecution and other nasty events in our state?

Caviness was 46 years old, with a wife and two sons. He had worked for the Montgomery Police Department, mostly in drug investigations, for 20 years before going to work for the Attorney General’s Office. Here is his obituary from the Web site of an Alexander City funeral home:

Robert William “Bob” Caviness

April 20, 1964 – November 15, 2010

CAVINESS, Robert William “Bob”, age 46, a resident of Alexander City, AL; passed away Monday, November 15, 2010. Funeral services will be held Thursday, November 18, 2010 at 11:00 a.m. at Mountain View Baptist Church with Rev. Anthony Counts officiating. Burial will follow at Pine View Gardens with Gassett Funeral Home of Wetumpka directing. Mr. Caviness is preceded in death by his parents, George Walter Caviness, Sr. and Barbara Ruth McCarty Caviness. He is survived by his wife, Rebecca Caviness, two sons, Cole and  Parker Caviness, niece, Lauren Parker, nephews, Dallas Caviness, Devin Caviness, and Carson Parker. Pallbearers will be Devin Whittle, Dan Blackmon, Jeff Glass, Gene Sisson, Kyle Clark, Eddie Spivey, Jerome Hand, and Bill Hamil. Visitation will be held Wednesday, November 17, 2010 from 6:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. at Gassett Funeral Home. Mr. Caviness will lie in state one hour prior to service time at Mountain View Baptist Church.

Several of the pallbearers listed in the obituary work in the Attorney General’s Office.

The Caviness case marks at least four suspicious deaths that we know of in 2010, all involving people with some connections to the Riley administration or its activities. Caviness’ boss, Attorney General Troy King, is a Republican and once was a Riley ally. But the two have had a very public and ugly falling out over gambling-related issues. King has stated that electronic bingo generally is legal in Alabama, while Riley launched a crusade to shut down gaming facilities in Alabama.

Eleven lobbyists, legislators, and gaming figures–including the high-profile Milton McGregor and Ronnie Gilley–are under indictment on charges related to gambling legislation. The investigation has been led by U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, a Riley ally and George W. Bush appointee who, inexplicably, has remained in office throughout the Barack Obama administration.

What are the other suspicious deaths? We have written several posts about Major BashinskyZoa White, and Ralph Stacy:

Major Bashinsky–The 63-year-old son of one of the state’s best-known businessmen was reported missing in early March. About two weeks later, his body was found floating in a golf-course pond on Birmingham’s Southside, and his death was ruled a suicide. His father, the late Sloan Bashinsky Sr., was the CEO of Golden Enterprises, the maker of Golden Flake potato chips and snack foods. In the months leading up to Major Bashinsky’s disappearance, the Estate of Sloan Bashinsky was involved in a lawsuit with W and H Investments of Birmingham, seeking an accounting of some $37 million the elder Bashinsky had invested with the firm–mostly in oil wells. A settlement was approved in the lawsuit on March 1, two days before Major Bashinsky was reported missing. One of the partners in W and H Investments is William Cobb “Chip” Hazelrig, who once had a campaign contribution to Bob Riley returned when it was discovered that Hazelrig was a founding partner of a company called Paragon Gaming. Both Hazelrig and Rob Riley, the governor’s son, had ties to a company called Crimsonica, which is based in Tuscaloosa and run by a man named Robert Sigler.

Zoa White–A former Riley campaign worker, the 69-year-old White was found dead in her midtown Mobile home on June 28. News reports have said she was beaten to death with a hammer. White had worked in the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) under Bill Johnson, who went from being a member of the Riley administration to one of the governor’s harshest critics. Johnson was so close to White and her family that he helped notify friends about funeral arrangements. Mobile police recently made an arrest in White’s murder, but they have said little about evidence found in the case. The prosecution will be led by Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson, who is commander of Riley’s anti-gambling task force. Suspect Carlos Edward Kennedy has been denied bond in the case and is represented by a court-appointed lawyer.

Ralph Stacy–He was in charge of strategic communications and was a chief lieutenant to BCA president Bill Canary. Canary, who is Leura Canary’s husband, is a long-time associate of Karl Rove and U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue. Montgomery police have released few details about Stacy’s death, and the Montgomery Advertiser has written almost nothing about it. Stacy was 53, with a wife, Angel, and a daughter, Savannah. Friends and colleagues described him as a jovial man who was a popular public speaker. Before moving under the BCA banner earlier this year, Stacy had served as director of the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama, which represented the state’s 120 Chambers of Commerce and had some 60,000 dues-paying members. The BCA, with about 5,000 members, reportedly had long coveted the sizable membership over which Stacy ruled.

Is it coincidence that these deaths happened in 2010, as Bob Riley’s term was winding down and the governor was engaged in a high-profile crusade against gambling interests? Is it coincidence that these deaths occurred as questions continued to rise about Riley’s financial support from the Mississippi Choctaw Indians, reportedly laundered through GOP felon Jack Abramoff? Is it a coincidence that Bob Riley has strong ties to Bill Canary, Karl Rove, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce–and Riley’s term is ending amidst a disturbingly high body count? It could be. Is it possible that there is nothing suspicious about any of these deaths? Yes, that’s possible.

Is it also possible that at least one or two of these deaths involved foul play connected to state government–and perhaps GOP shenanigans on a national scale? Solid information on these cases is hard to come by at the moment, but given the toxic environment that has engulfed Alabama for the past 15 years or more, we think the answer to that question is yes.

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