Defense rests in longtime Alabama sheriff's corruption trial

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ATHENS, Ala. (AP) -- Attorneys for an Alabama sheriff on trial on corruption charges rested their case after the longtime officer took the stand and denied taking money from public and campaign accounts and gambling in casinos at taxpayer expense.

Closing arguments were set for Friday in the trial of Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely. Jurors will then get the case following legal instructions from Judge Pamela Baschab, who rejected a defense request to end the trial with a verdict of acquittal.

Blakely, 70, testified Thursday about a series of transactions and checks that prosecutors say are evidence of wrongdoing, and the defense contends show nothing but normal campaign finances, news outlets reported.

First elected in 1982 and rarely seen without boots and a cowboy hat, Blakely said he sometimes deposited campaign funds into his personal account because his campaign treasurer lived hours away and encouraged him to deposit the money as reimbursement for campaign expenses.

While testimony showed Blakely sometimes left IOUs and took money from a jail safe used to hold inmates' money, he said that wasn't a crime. He also said nothing illegal occurred when county prisoners worked at a business where a part owner gave him a check for $50,000.

Blakely didn't deny gambling at casinos during trips to the Gulf Coast and Nevada for law enforcement conferences, but he said the outings didn't cost taxpayers extra and denied accusations that an employee sent him money because he was broke from losses.

In one case, Blakely said, he asked an employee to send him money because he thought he might not have enough money to drive back to Alabama from Nevada.

"Did you run short of money because you gambled in a casino?" asked defense lawyer Robert Tuten.

"No sir," Blakely replied.

Blakely faces charges of using his office for personal gain, theft of campaign funds and taking money held by the sheriff's office. He has continued working as sheriff since being indicted in 2019 on multiple charges but would automatically be removed from office with a felony conviction.