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Press Release

Appeals Court Vacates Probationary Sentence For Vendor Who Bribed Two-Year College Chancellor

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Alabama

BIRMINGHAM -- A federal appeals court ruled today that a district judge's sentence of probation was unreasonable for a computer software vendor who paid more than $600,000 in bribes over four years to the chancellor of Alabama's two-year college system, announced U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance.

After the government challenged the sentence on appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court's 2011 sentence for JAMES WINSTON HAYES and returned the case to U.S. District Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins for resentencing.

Hayes, 70, formerly owned ACCESS Group Software, a Walker County company that sold educational computer software to the Alabama Department of Postsecondary Education. ACCESS did business with more than 25 two-year colleges and technical schools in Alabama. Hayes pleaded guilty in 2008 to bribing Roy Johnson, then chancellor of the two-year college system, and to conspiring to commit money laundering.

From 2002 to 2006, Hayes paid Johnson more than $600,000 in bribes, and in return, Hayes' software company obtained lucrative government contracts that earned his company more than $14 million in revenue and about $5 million in profit.

"As corruption cases go, this was bribery writ large, and on this record the district court's significant variance down to probation cannot stand," the appeals court wrote.

"Bribery cannot properly be seen as a victimless crime, for in a sense it threatens the foundation of democratic government," the appeals court wrote. "Putting aside the financial havoc it can cause, bribery tears at the general belief of the citizenry that government officials will carry out their duties honestly, if not always competently."

Johnson pleaded guilty in the case to charges of bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit money laundering, obstruction of justice and tampering with a witness. Johnson was sentenced to six years and six months in prison. Both Hayes and Johnson assisted the government in its investigation of corruption in the two-year college system after they were charged. Including Hayes and Johnson, the investigation resulted in 17 convictions.

Assistant U.S. Attorney George Martin prosecuted the case and Assistant U.S. Attorney Praveen Krishna handled the case on appeal.

Updated March 19, 2015