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An Independent Investigation Is Needed on Alabama Suicides

Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer

Editor’s Note: This post is a joint reporting effort by Lori Alexander Moore and Roger Shuler.

Roughly 14 months have passed since the body of Alabama attorney Major Bashinsky was found floating in a golf-course water hazard. The official finding of suicide sounded suspect to our ears when it was announced on March 24, 2010–and it seems even more suspect now that we’ve fully examined the autopsy report in the case.

The mainstream press has ignored signs that the Bashinsky death was not a suicide, but the public should not ignore them. And it should demand an independent investigation, especially because the issue of mysterious “suicides” in Alabama does not end with Major Bashinsky.

We have reported on the suicides of four prominent Alabamians, all of whom had possible connections to financial matters involving former Governor Bob Riley, the Alabama Republican Party, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce–and perhaps GOP strategist Karl Rove and confessed felon Jack Abramoff. We have reported that the Bashinsky autopsy report presents no forensic evidence to support a finding of suicide; the finding is based on the non-scientific investigation of police officers. We also have reported that a gun linked to the Bashinsky death is from a model that dates to World War II and now is considered a collector’s item–seemingly an odd choice for a man planning to shoot himself, especially since we’ve seen no reports that Major Bashinsky was a gun collector.

After reviewing the full Bashinsky autopsy report, we are convinced that Alabama law enforcement cannot be trusted to examine these deaths objectively. Why is that? During Bob Riley’s last year in office, the Alabama Supreme Court overturned years of judicial precedent and essentially declared that Riley was the chief law-enforcement officer in the state. That means any police agency in Alabama had a conflict of interest investigating deaths that might have ties to the Riley administration.

Should Alabamians trust that conflicted agencies got it right on these four deaths–and possibly others? No, they should not. And the stakes grow higher as the death toll mounts.

Less than two months ago, Major Bashinsky’s first cousin, Charles “Bubba” Major, died from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. In between those two deaths, Business Council of Alabama (BCA) executive Ralph Stacy died at work from a gunshot wound that was reportedly self inflicted. And Robert “Bob” Caviness, an investigator in the Alabama attorney general’s office who reportedly knew Ralph Stacy, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

How could these four deaths be tied to Republican Party politics? Major Bashinsky and Bubba Major were part of a family that was embroiled in a lawsuit with an investment firm that has ties to the Riley family. Here is how we reported it in a previous post:

Both Major Bashinsky and Bubba Major had roundabout ties to a lawsuit brought by the estate of Sloan Bashinsky Sr. against the Birmingham firm W and H Investments. The “H” stands for William Cobb “Chip” Hazelrig, an entrepreneur with ties to the Alabama gaming community. Hazelrig is a partner in Paragon Gaming, a company headed by Robert Sigler, of Tuscaloosa. Paragon is pursuing a major gambling resort in Canada, and Rob Riley, the son of former Alabama Republican Governor Bob Riley, used to be involved in Paragon.

Bubba Major was known as one of the finest golfers in Alabama and was a long-time member of the prestigious Country Club of Birmingham. And how is this for irony? An Internet search reveals that Bubba Major worked in sales at Southline Steel, a company based in Bessemer, Alabama. Who has a prominent interest in Southline Steel? None other than Chip Hazelrig.

Chip Hazelrig’s ties to the Rileys get pretty darned close. And his actions since Major Bashinsky was reported missing have been, well, unusual:

People with ties to the lawsuit styled Estate of Sloan Bashinsky v. W and H Investments have a curious way of turning up as suicide victims. Is that because Chip Hazelrig has ties to Alabama’s Republican machine, built largely by Karl Rove in the 1990s and run by the Riley family in the 2000s? And is this ugliness driven partly because of the GOP’s under-the-table ties to the gambling industry?

We know for sure that Chip Hazelrig took some curious actions last March, while Major Bashinsky was missing. Why would he show up for a visit with Sloan Bashinsky Jr. in Key West, Florida?

What about Hazelrig’s ties to the Alabama GOP? Rob Riley distanced himself from Paragon Gaming only after a contribution from Hazelrig to Bob Riley’s gubernatorial campaign was revealed to have come from someone with ties to gambling. Bob Riley returned the contribution, claiming that he was staunchly anti-gambling, and he went on to launch a crusade against electronic bingo in the last year of his reign as governor.

How do Ralph Stacy and Bob Caviness fit into all of this? Stacy worked at the BCA with Bill Canary, a long-time Rove ally and the husband of Bush-era U.S. Attorney Leura Canary (famed for her role in the Don Siegelman prosecution). Caviness worked for former Alabama Attorney General Troy King, who went from being a Bob Riley ally to an enemy because of their opposing stances on gambling. Sources tell Legal Schnauzer that Stacy and Caviness knew each other well from their activities as lay ministers.

The Major Bashinsky autopsy report is a classic example of the incestuous nature of Alabama politics–of politics in all states, for that matter. The medical examiner who signed off on the report works at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), which is one of three campuses in the University of Alabama System. By virtue of his role as governor, Bob Riley served as ex oficio president of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees.

One does not have to wear a tin-foil hat to ask: In such a conflict-riddled environment, could pressure have been brought to make sure the Major Bashinsky death was neatly tied up with the label of “suicide”–even though there is precious little evidence to support that finding?

That thought truly resonates when you read the autopsy report and realize it raises far more questions than it answers. We will turn our attention to the full report soon.

(To be continued)


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