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Lawsuit over original purchase of Hayneville Plaza goes to trial

By Fred Guarino

The Lowndes Signal

Jury selection began Monday, Jan. 7 in Lowndes County Circuit Court in an ongoing lawsuit by the Lowndes County Commission over the original purchase of the Hayneville Plaza building in Hayneville.

A lawsuit filed in 2013 by the commission against Karl Bell, Hayneville Plaza LLC and the South Central Alabama Broadband District (SCABC) was later amended to include three additional defendants, Charlie King Jr., Helenor Bell and Robert Woods.

According to Highland Home attorney Arlene Richardson, who represents the county in the lawsuit, “The statue that we are suing under now — allows you to not only sue the public officer who (allegedly) caused funds to be dispersed in the manner that they were here, but it also allows you to follow the money that was dispersed to get that money back.”

Also, on Monday, Dec. 10, 2018, the Lowndes County Commission, voted over the objection of Commissioners Robert Harris and Joshua Simmons, to hire Hayneville attorney Jerry Thornton to serve as co-counsel with Richardson in trying the lawsuit.

County Attorney Hank Sanders and Selma attorney Christmas Green both previously withdrew from the case as attorneys for the county.

In June of 2011, the commission voted to float a $3.5 million bond to purchase the Hayneville Plaza Building, which was appraised at $3.2 million, for use by the South Central Alabama Broadband Commission (SCABC) in connection with a federal grant and private investors funded broadband project.

In 2012, a $59 million grant to Trillion Communications from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration for the $86 million SCABC project in eight Alabama counties was terminated.

In 2015, the commission sold the Hayneville Plaza building to Bell Ventures for $125,000 after as Sanders once explained, “It got to the point that you could not insure the building because the building was in bad shape… at least four or five determinations were made that it would take $800,000 to redo the building. And it wouldn’t be worth more than $800,000 once it was done.”

He also said, “The people in the building had to move because you couldn’t have insurance on it. And if something happened, the county would be exposed to a lot of liability.”

The Hayneville Plaza location is now the site of the new Ace Hardware Store in Hayneville, which opened in 2018 and owned by Joe Bell Jr. and Travis Bell.

According to information previously provided by Richardson:It is alleged that King (or someone on his behalf) sent a letter to U.S. Bank, the bank holding bond funds, causing the bond funds to be released “before any of the contracts were signed,” said Richardson.

It is alleged the bank wired the funds to Hayneville Plaza. “And that same day they went into the Hayneville Plaza Account, they left by means of withdrawals,” said Richardson.

It is alleged, according to Richardson, a check to Helenor Bell was discovered for more than $130,000. And it is alleged there was a more than $899,000 withdrawal to Helenor and Karl  Bell from the Hayneville Plaza account,

It is also alleged that Woods was a paid consultant of the county commission who was supposed to negotiate the finance and purchase of the property, said Richardson, who was not known to be also working as a consultant of Karl Bell.

And it is alleged that Woods was paid $52,000 when the bond closed by check from Hayneville Plaza to him.