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Alabama Politician Pleads Innocent to Influence-Peddling Charges

June 29, 1988

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) _ State Rep. Thomas Reed pleaded innocent to federal influence-peddling charges Tuesday with a whisper of the noise that marked his attempt nearly five months ago to remove the Confederate battle flag from Alabama’s Capitol.

While the state NAACP president drew a rowdy crowd and hordes of reporters on Feb. 2 when he tried to scale a chain-link fence and enter the Capitol grounds to take down the flag, Reed stood near the bench and quietly answered a series of questions from U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson.

Reed, charged with bribery and extortion, declined comment afterward, and his attorneys, George Beck of Montgomery and former Lt. Gov. Bill Baxley, had little to add.

″We’re not going to try the case in the press, we think it’s been tried in the press too much,″ said Beck. ″Tom pleaded not guilty. We intend to prove he’s not guilty.″

Reed is accused of violating federal law by accepting at least $15,000 in cash and restaurant equipment to try to secure the early release of a convicted murderer from the state parole board.

Baxley, a former state attorney general who unsuccessfully prosecuted Reed on unrelated bribery charges more than 10 years ago, said the legislator ″said it all when he said he was not guilty.″

″What counts is what happens in court,″ Baxley added. He said he had no qualms about defending a man he once prosecuted.

Thompson gave Reed’s attorneys 10 days to file papers challenging the government’s case and set the trial for Aug. 8.

The legislator also has been indicted on related state felony charges, with arraignment set in circuit court for July 27.

Both state and federal grand juries charged that Reed, a member of the Legislature’s Joint Prison Committee, accepted at least $10,000 in cash and $5,000 in restaurant equipment from an uncle of convicted murderer Anthony Dennis Chesser.

In return, Reed allegedly attempted to use his position to persuade the parole board to give Chesser an earlier date for parole consideration and a work-release assignment.

Chesser, serving a 40-year sentence, initially was given an earlier date for parole consideration at Reed’s request, but the parole board later revoked that change and refused Reed’s request to give Chesser a work-release assignment. Chesser remains behind bars.

On the federal charges, Reed could be sentenced to a maximum 55 years and fined $1.25 million if convicted. If convicted in state court, he could be sentenced to 20 years in prison and fined $10,000.

Reed, among 14 black legislators charged with criminal trespassing in the flag demonstration, remains free on bond. He has said he will continue efforts to take down the flag, which he considers a symbol of racism and oppression.

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