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State Lawmaker Convicted of Extortion

October 1, 1988

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) _ State Rep. Thomas Reed, who led an attempt to remove a Confederate flag from the Alabama Capitol, was convicted Friday of extortion for taking $10,000 in a bid to win early parole for a convicted murderer.

A federal jury also convicted Reed of inducing a Columbus, Ga., businessman to cross state lines to Tuskegee to commit the crime.

Reed, 60, was found innocent on three remaining charges, including accepting restaurant equipment from the businessman, Bobby Gene Chesser, as a bribe in the 1986 bid to free Chesser’s nephew.

The nephew, Anthony Dennis Chesser, is serving a 40-year sentence for murdering his wife.

Jurors returned the verdict standing in a semicircle facing the judge, with Reed holding his wife’s hand and standing behind them.

U.S. District Judge Joel Dubina did not immediately set a sentencing date. Reed could receive 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the extortion count, and a five-year term and a $250,000 fine on the lesser charge.

Reed, state head of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, drew wide notice when he was arrested with 13 other black legislators in February on misdemeanor trespassing charges in a mostly symbolic bid to remove the Confederate battle flag from atop the Capitol dome in Montgomery.

The NAACP contends the flag is a symbol of racism and oppression of blacks. It mounted a campaign last year to remove the banner from the state capitol here and in South Carolina and from state flags in Georgia and Mississippi.

At a news conference after the verdict, Reed blamed his prosecution on his attempt to take down the Rebel banner.

″You know and I know were it not for the Confederate battle flag I probably would not be here today,″ he said.

Reed said he would not vacate his Alabama House seat.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Broward Segrest said at sentencing Reed would have to give up the post ″even with an appeal pending.″

Vowing to appeal, defense attorney Bill Baxley, a former state attorney general and ex-lieutenant governor, said he believed Reed’s removal from office would be up to his House colleagues.

Attorney General Don Siegelman said he was researching the matter.

Segrest said he was not disappointed by Reed’s acquittal on three of the five counts. ″Two counts is as good as any,″ he said.

″The message is that the public wants politicians who live up to their oath, who are truly servants of the people,″ Segrest said.

But Reed said, ″I don’t think we lost. There were five counts originally and they have been reduced to two. Eventually I think those two will be thrown out.

The jury deliberated two hours Thursday night before telling Dubina they were hungry and tired. They resumed deliberations Friday and took less than three more hours to reach their verdict.

Reed was accused of taking $10,000 in cash and more than $5,000 in restaurant equipment from Bobby Chesser in return for seeking the early release in 1986 of Anthony Chesser.

Chesser testified that he gave Reed the money and an air conditioner for Reed’s Tuskegee restaurant, and that Reed gave him the money back when state parole officials, after initially approving an early parole consideration date for Anthony Chesser, withdrew it.

In his closing argument, Baxley said the case was built on the word of a lying felon.

″He admitted he told diametrically opposite stories under oath,″ said Baxley, referring to Chesser’s confusion over dates that he allegedly dealt with Reed.

Chesser, 50, is on probation for his conviction on state theft charges and arson-related federal charges.

The case was heard in Mobile because of pretrial publicity in Montgomery.

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