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Brett Blackledge, left, celebrates with fellow , front left, Birmingham News staffer Virginia Martin his winning of the Pulitzer Prize in Investigative Reporting. He won for investigative reporting for his exposure of cronyism and corruption in the state's two-year college system.
AP photo by The Birmingham News
Brett Blackledge, left, celebrates with fellow , front left, Birmingham News staffer Virginia Martin his winning of the Pulitzer Prize in Investigative Reporting. He won for investigative reporting for his exposure of cronyism and corruption in the state's two-year college system.

Birmingham reporter wins
Pulitzer Exposed corruption
in 2-year college system

BIRMINGHAM (AP) — The Birmingham News won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting Monday for Brett Blackledge's exposure of corruption in the state's two-year college system, which led to the ouster of the chancellor and an ongoing criminal investigation.

Blackledge uncovered nepotism and questionable contracts that led the State Board of Education to place Chancellor Roy Johnson on paid leave in July 2006 and then fire him in November.

Hunter George, executive editor of the News, said Blackledge "was undeterred in seeking records and ferreting out the cronyism and corruption and the nepotism in the community college system."

Denied records by the college system, Blackledge went to individual campuses and began "digging through the books," George said. "And he's still working on it."

Blackledge's probe began more than a year ago. "He never gave up," said Editor Thomas V. Scarritt.

With the announcement of the prize, the News building, with a center atrium, erupted in cheers.

"Our new building has four open floors. Everyone was cheering on every floor," said Bob Sims, assistant state editor.

In the wake of Blackledge's reporting, a federal criminal investigation has led to two guilty pleas and two convictions of people employed by Shelton State Community College or the Alabama Fire College, which is on the Shelton State campus in Tuscaloosa. One who pleaded guilty was state Rep. Byrant Melton, D-Tuscaloosa, who lost his office after admitting he funneled legislative discretionary funds through the Fire College and then used the money to pay gambling debts.

A separate state investigation focusing on Bishop State Community College in Mobile has led to charges against 13 people, including former staff and former students involving the alleged theft of student aid over a period of years.

Johnson has not been charged in the investigation, but federal prosecutors are seeking forfeiture of his $1.3 million home in Opelika, saying in court filings that he took at least $300,000 in payments from contractors after allegedly setting up state contracts for them. The payments were first disclosed by the News as part of Blackledge's investigation.

The Birmingham News also won a Pulitzer Prize in 1991 for editorial writing for its series on the inequities in Alabama's tax structure. It was a finalist for a Pulitzer last year for its editorial stand against the death penalty.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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