State audit critical of indicted Alabama prosecutor

Published 9:24 am Monday, May 17, 2021

A former Alabama prosecutor set for trial on ethics charges next month repeatedly failed to handle office finances properly and should have to repay money, a state audit found.

Suspended Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes did not have procedures for handling cash or credit card transactions and failed to ensure money was being spent only for proper, law enforcement-related needs, according to a report by the Examiners of Public Accounts that cited failures in seven areas.

While an office manager was able to avoid paying $3,406 in questioned charges following a hearing, Hughes failed to appear for a hearing and is still liable for an unspecified amount of money related to a unit that collects money from worthless checks, the report said.

The state attorney general’s office, which already is prosecuting Hughes on the other charges, will be asked to collect the money, auditors said in the report, which was released Friday.

Hughes’ successor as Lee County district attorney, Jessica Ventiere, requested the audit after taking over the job in November, the Opelika-Auburn News reported.

“Obviously, the results of this audit have added to an already difficult situation within the district attorney’s office,” Ventiere said in a statement.

Hughes, 46, was charged in November with illegally hiring his three children to work for his office and paying private lawyers with public funds to settle a matter that helped him and his wife, authorities said. He also was charged with issuing a subpoena to a company to gather evidence for his own potential defense and perjury.

A defense lawyer has said Hughes, who was elected in 2016, maintains his innocence. With Hughes’s trial set for June 21, Judge Pamela Baschab agreed earlier this month to bar the defense from telling jurors Hughes did not know his actions were illegal.

Hughes’s lawyers also can’t claim his prosecution was politically motivated, the judge ruled.