Prison work, personal loans, failed arms trade interrupt corruption process with Alabama sheriff

But defense attorneys were able to cast doubt on the credibility of Pullum and another of the state’s witnesses today in the corruption trial against Blakely, the elected sheriff of Limestone County, home to the fast-growing suburbs just west of Huntsville.

Story Highlights:

  • Sheriff Mike Blakely then sent inmates to work at a business Chiou co-owned with Brad Pullum, one of the sheriff’s former employees.

  • During testimony, Chiou alleged that Pullum swindled him out of $750,000 to finance various business ventures that never took off. Blakely’s defense attorneys questioned whether Pullum was drunk or high during his testimony. Pullum told the jury that he took prescribed pain medication before testifying but that he hadn’t been drinking.

The state called Pullum to testify about a time back in 2015 when he arranged for Chiou to give the sheriff a $50,000 check.

Pullum and Chiou co-owned a business with Pullum’s daughter. Pullum testified that he started the business, called Higo, with hopes of opening a gun store and shooting range in Athens, and selling military equipment, such as submarines and weapons, to the U.S. government and Taiwan.

Blakely is charged with 11 crimes, including using his position for personal gain in connection with the inmate labor and the check from Chiou.

Pullum also has a real estate business and back in August of 2015, he got the contract to sell a home that Blakely inherited from his late parents. Pullum testified that he paid off a $22,189 lien against the home ahead of the sale.

Pullum testified that Blakely told him, “My ass is in a sling. I need to get rid of that house.” Pullum told the jury that Blakely owed money to another man, Paul Anderson, who goes by the nickname “Tall Paul.”

More than a year earlier, Anderson had loaned the sheriff $30,000 to repay the county $28,572 that the sheriff had been overpaid because of an accounting error in 2013. Blakely planned to repay Anderson by selling the home he inherited from his parents, according to state prosecutors, but it was taking too long to sell.

Pullum testified that he asked Chiou to give the sheriff $50,000 to repay Anderson. State prosecutors allege that Chiou only gave Blakely the money after the sheriff made him an honorary deputy and gave him a card that he could use as a pistol permit.

But Chiou, also testifying for the state, told the jury that he took out a loan and wrote the $50,000 check to the sheriff because Pullum had asked him to. He also testified that he had already taken out the loan and requested the check before he even met Blakely to get the deputy card. Back then, Chiou testified, he trusted Pullum because they were friends.

But state prosecutors allege that because of the loans, Blakely also sent three inmates, including one man who had been convicted of murder to work at Higo. Chiou testified that he had nothing to do with operations of the Higo and he just helped finance it. Chiou told the jury that Pullum had only included him on the formation of the business because Pullum believed having a “minority” owner would help them get government contracts.

When the Blakely home eventually sold in September of 2015, the profits went toward repaying the money Blakely owed to Pullum and Chiou. Chiou told the jury that now he has nothing to do with Pullum. He said Pullum got about $750,000 from him to invest in various business ideas that never took off.

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