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Former Clarke County sheriff accused of lying about loans

Indictment alleges Norris borrowed money for county jail but used money for gambling debts, other personal expenses
Published: May. 12, 2022 at 10:05 PM CDT
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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - Former Clarke County Sheriff Ray Norris, who resigned last year amid allegations of wrongdoing, is now facing federal charges.

A state court judge in March dismissed charges against Norris after determining that the Alabama Attorney General’s Office had agreed not to prosecute him if he resigned from office. But that same day, a federal grand jury in Mobile handed up an indictment. That indictment, which a federal judge recently made public, accuses Norris of applying for loans under false pretenses.

Four of those loans from 2017 and 2018, totaling $48,400, purportedly were for jail food and the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office. But prosecutors allege the sheriff actually used the money to pay off overdrawn personal accounts, gambling expenses and other personal expenses – including loan payments for a boat.

The indictment also alleges that Norris got a loan for $68,887 to purchase a Boush Cutter. Instead, prosecutors maintain, he used the money to pay a past due account.

Norris is due in federal court on Wednesday for an arraignment. Mobile lawyer Gordon Armstrong said he anticipates representing Norris, but he added that he has not reviewed the charges closely enough to comment.

The indictment also includes three criminal counts against Gulf Shores resident Danny Lee Beard Sr., a longtime friend of Norris.

The indictment charges both Beard and Norris with falsely stating that a $75,000 loan they applied for in 2019 was to purchase rental equipment. But $25,000 went to make payments on existing loans the same bank had made to Norris and his wife.

The indictment charges Beard, separately, with making a false statement in order to induce Sweet Water State Bank to loan him $51,606 in 2020. He signed a statement certifying that he owned construction equipment he put up as collateral, a 2011 JD 437D Loader and a 2000 Freightliner, and that he did not intend to sell them. In fact, the indictment alleges, he did not own the Loader and intended to sell the Freightliner to a company called Conserv Equipment Leasing.

The final count accuses Beard of fraudulently obtaining a $74,207 loan under the Paycheck Protection Program on behalf of HADDCO LLC, a company he organized in 2011. At the time of the application in 2021, the company had not reported wages since the third quarter of 2019.

Beard pleaded not guilty to the charges on Wednesday. His attorney, Dennis Knizley, called his client’s banking relationship “hometown banking.” Although he represented that he owned a piece of equipment that he did not, Knizley said, “The security was never at risk.”

As to why his client co-signed a loan with Norris, Knizley said the two were longtime friends. He said it was part of the “good ole boy network” of Clarke County.

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