COLUMBIANA, Ala. (AP) _ A confidant of former Gov. Jim Folsom pleaded guilty Tuesday to stealing $15,000 from a state grant and agreed to help prosecutors investigating Statehouse corruption.

John Tanner is the third former Folsom ally to plead guilty in a joint federal-state investigation that began as a review of ethics complaints against Folsom.

Most of those complaints began after Folsom ascended to the governor's office in 1993 when then-Gov. Guy Hunt was ousted by an ethics conviction.

The plea is likely to focus more attention on Folsom, who has not been charged with any crime but has been at the center of the case from its beginning.

``I have not been concerned nor am I now concerned about myself,'' Folsom said in a telephone interview. ``My concern is with John and his wife and his two little children.''

State and federal prosecutors said they hoped the plea agreement would give them enough information to end the investigation. ``I do believe we have reached critical mass,'' U.S. Attorney Redding Pitt said.

In addition to admitting his guilt in the state theft case, Tanner agreed to plead guilty to federal felonies of tax evasion and conspiring to commit mail fraud for his role in the illegal distribution of nearly $600,000 in state funds through a defunct jobs center.

Tanner, 43, faces a sentence of two to 20 years in prison on the state charge, plus a maximum fine of $10,000. He could be sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison and fined $250,000 for each of the federal charges.

He also must pay at least $60,000 in restitution.

Sentencing on the state charge was set for March 15. Sentencing on the federal charges has not been set.

Two former state lawmakers close to Folsom earlier pleaded guilty and agreed to help authorities. But neither was as directly linked to the ex-governor as Tanner.

In addition to being a longtime friend and personal attorney, Tanner was Folsom's campaign treasurer and handled legal matters when Folsom was both lieutenant governor and governor. During 1987-94, when Folsom held the offices, Tanner did more than $1 million in state legal work.

Tanner's lawyer, Doug Jones, declined comment on what information from Tanner, if any, might involve Folsom.

Questions have been raised over whether Tanner illegally routed funds to Folsom, who lost an election bid in 1994. Investigators also have questioned Folsom's role with the job center, which once paid for a job held by Folsom's wife.

The Folsoms have said there was no impropriety.