By Kevin Lee & Rob Holbert
It was a long way down from a spot in the sun to the dingy corner of a basement, from membership in a unit described as the "elite" of your profession to a more mundane assignment.
And it’s a hard price to pay for professionalism.
When State Attorney General’s Investigator Anthony Castaldo turned his back on political subterfuge, he fell headfirst from grace and found himself rebuked, betrayed and ultimately came to believe he was the target of occupational/political assassination.
He would also be left penalized for doing what was ultimately decreed to be nothing at all.
In the late 1980s, New York native Anthony "Tony" Castaldo, enrolled at the University of South Alabama with his mind set on a musical career. The percussionist studied, dabbled in the local music scene but as time passed other callings arose. Eventually, he had a change in heart and recollected earlier advice.
"I had a high school guidance counselor who was a former policeman," Castaldo said, "and he always told me I would make a good cop. So I started thinking about it."
Action followed. Castaldo joined the university’s police force in May 1991 and remained there until he entered the Mobile Police Department in October 1992. He stood out not only for his 6-feet-6-inch height, but also for the quality of his work and progressed quickly, serving as a patrolman for less than 18 months before joining the Mobile County District Attorney’s office as an investigator.
In May 1997, Castaldo returned to his alma mater where the graduate oversaw investigative matters for the university.
Castaldo’s track record impressed others in Montgomery and he joined the Alabama Attorney General’s office as an investigator in August 1999. Attorney General Bill Pryor, a Mobile native and rising crackerjack of a political star, ran his office in a fitting manner, an operation that fit Castaldo’s expectations.
"I was already familiar with that style of work from my experience," Castaldo explained. "I had never done anything that far reaching, on that big of a scale because it was statewide, but it was mostly similar. And the environment was good, everyone there was very professional."
That feeling was mutual. John Mulligan retired from the FBI and began work as an investigator for the attorney general where he eventually became a senior agent and worked as Castaldo’s supervisor for a time.
Mulligan reflected positively on his former colleague.
"Anthony was astute, very capable and managed his cases well," he said. "He was able to handle difficult work, the white collar crime very well. Those type cases are hard to work on because they require tenacity and willingness to take on long term cases, they’re not quick like some other criminal investigations. He didn’t waste time."
But Castaldo’s comfort was illusory and ill fated.
Attorney General Bill Pryor’s performance paid off and he was appointed to the bench of the Eleventh Circuit Court in the spring of 2004. In need of a new top law enforcement official, Alabama Gov. Bob Riley anointed his legal advisor, Troy King.
King hailed from tiny Elba in the southeastern Alabama quadrant known as "The Wiregrass." His family went to the Baptist church; his mother taught school. He came across as a typical small town, Southern boy, conservative by nature and unafraid to stand by his beliefs.
He even attended then-Troy State University, only 31 miles from Elba, before receiving his law degree from the University of Alabama. He was undoubtedly home grown.
King had served in state administrations since 1995 and was made an assistant attorney general in 1999. He was young, ambitious and dogged in his pursuits, though detractors noted his lengthy bureaucratic resume and called his courtroom experience nonexistent.
Yet King’s single-mindedness prevailed, both in his rise to power and the execution of his office.
From Castaldo’s recollections, slow changes emerged in the attorney general’s staff and in the direction of prosecutions. There were concerns of undue influence from beyond the office.
Luther Stancel "Stan" Pate IV is a businessman renowned in the Tuscaloosa suburb of Northport for his excitability and successful business acumen. Like other wealthy developers, he took a keen interest in politics and felt a "hands on" approach best suited his needs and sometimes raised a few eyebrows.
Pate held press conferences replete with thousands in cash as props to promote gambling initiatives.
He was affiliated with an ad campaign to subvert Gov. Riley.
Never hesitant to insert himself in public affairs, Pate even toyed with a candidacy for governor in 2002.
According to public records, Pate’s passions often unlocked his wallet. He took advantage of Alabama’s loose regulations involving campaign contributions and dove into a morass of political action committees. PACs have come under criticism across the country and in Alabama in particular for hiding the identities of political supporters and making it difficult to follow the flow of cash from constituent to politician.
In mid-2005, Pate sought $16 million in public funds for a real estate development, a shopping center to be named Midtown. The Tuscaloosa City Council declined the aid with Council President Jerry Plott and Councilman Kip Tyner being the most vocal opponents.
It wasn’t Pate’s first difficulty with the councilmen and he was frustrated.
"He (Pate) fought us tooth-and-nail to get that money," Plott said. "But I didn’t think public dollars should be spent on a private business. He began a public crusade to try to destroy me."
Pate apparently conceived a Web site aimed at fomenting discord against Plott. Amidst the many charges of corruption on www.theplottthickens.com, a dormant discussion board asks for feedback on the councilman and a line on the site declares, "I am Stan Pate and I approve this message," then gives a Northport post office box address.
Pate admits to having founded the site and claims good reason for such. "I filed an ethics complaint that is a matter of public record against Mr. Plott," Pate said, "and I made it very clear in multiple ads and in the newspaper and in Tuscaloosa and on various publications that I feel like Mr. Plott’s dealings while he was on the city council were unethical and corrupt."
It didn’t stop there. "And I filed an ethics complaint against Mr. Tyner," Pate said. "He had not filled his ethics forms out for many, many, many cycles and that’s a clear violation of the ethics law."
According to Plott, Pate began to talk of "getting back at those who opposed his shopping center request." He described how Pate filed four ethics charges against him yet all were dismissed for lack of evidence.
"He (Pate) never could get the ethics commission to give me any trouble. So then he decided to take it to his friend Troy King in the AG’s office," Plott said. "All of a sudden, I’d get inquiries from investigators from the AG’s office."
Plott said he was told by Pate associate Nick Bailey that investigation by the AG’s office was coming. Bailey has been a political player in the state, including serving as executive secretary to former Gov. Don Siegelman. Bailey also testified against Siegelman in his corruption trial.
"Nick Bailey made the comment to me after a city council meeting that Stan wasn’t having luck with the ethics commission and he was going to get the AG after me," Plott said.
When asked, Pate initially claimed ignorance on any investigations of Plott and Tyner, or their cause. Eventually, he took a different tack. " I actually spent many hours at the U.S. attorney’s office providing comprehensive information to federal, to local and state law enforcement," Pate said, "exactly what I believe you should do when you believe there’s been a crime committed, which is notify law enforcement." Pate claimed to have pushed the federal agents for a RICO action under federal laws designed to combat racketeering.
When pressed as to whether he had ever taken his complaints directly to King’s office, Pate answered cagily.
"Well let me ask you this, if a person, hypothetically, if a person thought an elected official had committed a crime or was operating unethically or became aware of what was thought to be a misdealing by an elected official, what should you do with it?" Pate said, adding, " I think anybody that had any experience at all would know that if they thought somebody had broken the law, they wouldn’t go to an attorney, you would go to law enforcement. If you think somebody’s broken the law, the proper thing to do is go to law enforcement."
Plott took the opportunity to write Troy King in hopes the situation would be corrected, that King would slow things. The body of the letter dated June 28, 2005 describes his awareness of the investigations, events leading to Pate’s anger and the result of the ethics claims.
"I understand that Jack Brennan with your office is now investigating Council Member Kip Tyner as a result of a complaint filed by Stan Pate," the letter read. "Your office also recently investigated a complaint against me filed by Mr. Pate. I am concerned that Mr. Pate is attempting to use the Attorney General’s office, as he has used the Ethics Commission, to continue his personal vendetta against several members of the Tuscaloosa City Council."
Plott also noted the relationship between Pate and King. He wrote: "I understand that Mr. Pate was Chairman of your fund raising reception in Birmingham on June 27th so obviously he is a friend and financial supporter of yours. Quiet (sic) naturally you can understand my concern of Mr. Pate using the Attorney General’s office to continue his personal vendetta’s (sic) against some of us on the city council."
Plott said a copy of the letter was also mailed to Gov. Bob Riley’s office.
When asked of his relationship with King, Pate answered, "I don’t know that it’s any of your business. Why should I be telling you what my relationship with any elected official is?"
Plott said the Tyner investigation seemed to cease after the letter was sent, however he said it began again 18 months later and to his knowledge is ongoing.
"What makes me so mad about it as a citizen, is that a private citizen can use a public office in this way," Plott said.
Now retired from the political scene, Plott said King’s investigations and what he believes to have been Pate’s role in them were central in his decision to depart the city council.
"Stan had a lot to do with me getting out," Plott says. "I spent 20 years in public office. The one thing I was most proud of was that I never profited one penny from it. Every vote I made was based on what I thought was right. Stan was successful in taking some of that away," Plott said.
The aforementioned Magic City fundraiser wasn’t Pate’s only gift to King. According to a Birmingham News exposé last year, Pate is connected to 18 PACS active in the state, some containing the most powerful brokers and dealers in the region.
Comparing that list with disclosure forms for Troy King’s 2006 re-election campaign, Pate is associated with 13 PACs that donated to the incumbent, many of which all list the same Montgomery post office box as a return address. Those 13 PACS gave a grand total of $185,000 to King’s cause.
Pate also contributed $30,000 to King as an individual donor, according to Secretary of State’s records, making one $25,000 donation and one $5,000 gift.
Rumors of Pate’s influence made the rounds in Montgomery. In speaking with members of King’s staff, Lagniappe reporters were told of a memo allegedly written by J.D. Shelton of the investigative division, that detailed a number of investigations begun as a result of Pate’s requests. According to those who claim to have read the memo and were willing to speak on condition of anonymity, Shelton, who was at the time chief investigator and is still working for the AG’s office, urged King to discontinue the investigations spurred by Pate as they had been uniformly without merit and a waste of time.
Shelton, who has since lost his position as chief investigator, would not discuss having written any such memo or its potential existence.
"What goes on at work, the good, the bad, the ugly, stays there. I don’t even talk about it with my wife, so I’m certainly not going to talk about it with you," Shelton said when contacted in his office.
When asked about Pate’s influence in the attorney general’s office, former investigator John Mulligan paused. "I’d rather not comment on that," he said. "There may be some other investigation from somewhere else that I don’t want to get involved in."
Troy King had other problems emerging.
In July 2006, Alabama Power Company gave King, his family and some friends a day at an Atlanta Braves game in the company’s luxury box. The 14 tickets gained access to a facility that usually rents for more than $2,000 a day according to the team’s Web site.
The attorney general represents Alabama Power’s customers before the state Public Service Commission, the regulatory body that sets electric rates and King’s acceptance of the tickets could be seen as a conflict of interest.
The gift went undetected by the Ethics Commission for six months, but Alabama Power filed a report only after the Birmingham News asked about the incident.
In late November 2006, it was revealed Troy King had asked Two-Year College Chancellor Roy Johnson to find a job for the mother of one of King’s staff attorneys at the same time King’s office was probing allegations against Johnson.
Johnson complied, employing the woman as a cashier at Southern Union State Community College.
Chancellor Johnson was later fired. One his violations – nepotism.
After public scrutiny emerged a year after the fact, King recused himself from the Johnson case and passed supervision to St. Clair County District Attorney Richard Minor.
Meanwhile, Castaldo’s esteem rose. He was publicly lauded by King twice for his performance on the case of former Bessemer Parks Director Don Anthony Walker who was sentenced for theft of public funds.
Asked to divulge details of those investigations, Castaldo declined elaboration, citing the credo that an investigator does not talk about the specifics of cases.
In late October 2005, Castaldo rolled across Birmingham in a vehicle with King and one other staff member. Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson, Castaldo’s former boss, had recently announced his intention to challenge Troy King for the state’s top prosecutor slot, and King was reading a newspaper story about it in the vehicle.
"I can still see it," Castaldo described, "King said, ‘Looks like Tyson’s throwing his hat in the ring now.’ Then he turned to me and said, ‘You used to work for him. You got anything we can use on him?’"
Castaldo slowly shook his head. "I just looked at him and said, ‘I’ve worked for politicians and never spoke out of school about any of them and would afford you the same respect should the opportunity present itself.’"
He wasn’t going down that path. The investigator wanted to do his job and rise above the petty stuff.
The answer apparently wasn’t what King wanted. "That was the last time I spoke with Troy King," Castaldo said.
In November 2005, Castaldo was sent to Florida and upon his return, things had changed at the office. Investigative chief Jack Brennan was stepping down and agent J.D. Shelton was in line to become the next chief. The deputy chief’s position was changing hands as well.
In December, Castaldo heard something alarming. "(Outgoing) Chief Jack Brennan saw me and told me, ‘Word has it around the office that you’re a Tyson loyalist. You need to keep your head down and out of anybody’s way because they’re coming for you,’" Castaldo recalled.
Castaldo was taken aback but knew the source of the rumor. It would grow stranger yet.
"There were times over the next few months where stuff just wasn’t right," Castaldo said. "I would come into my office and could tell someone had let themselves in there. Once I found my timesheet, with a note attached to it from payroll, and it was sitting at the bottom of a stack of files in my office. I mean, this is my timesheet. It’s how I get paid. There’s no reason it should have been in my office."
One morning Castaldo approached his office door and inserted his key. When he tried to open it, the entire lock came out of the mechanism and into his hand.
Castaldo notified his superiors and a locksmith arrived.
"The locksmith was pretty specific," Castaldo said. "He said the only way it could come out like that would be if someone had taken the core key and unlocked the core lock."
Within months, Castaldo’s worries would exceed damaged locks and errant timesheets.
Continued Next Issue…
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