• Donald V. Watkins

God Wears a Robe - Part 3

Updated: Jan 22

By: Donald V. Watkins

© Copyrighted and Published on January 21, 2020


Railroading Alabama Attorney Christopher Pitts


Christopher Pitts is a native of Auburn, Alabama. He is the son of legendary civil rights leader, Barbara Pitts. Along with civil rights icons Rosa Parks, Johnnie Carr, Maggie Bozeman, Julia Wilder, and a host of other brave women in the Alabama civil rights movement, Barbara Pitts became a COINTELPRO target of law enforcement officials who opposed the desegregation of public schools and public accommodations in Alabama. As a teenager in the 1960s, Ms. Pitts, her sisters, and their classmates at J.F. Drake High School organized lunch counter sit-ins and other civil rights protests in Lee County, Alabama. They were jailed on more than one occasion for challenging the status quo of racial segregation in the county.


Because she never stopped fighting for equal justice, Barbara Pitts rose in the ranks of powerful African-Americans in Alabama. She became the first black voter registrar in Lee County. Ms. Pitts was the Alabama G-O-T-V coordinator for Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to run for President of the United States. Ms. Pitts was the Alabama G-O-T-V coordinator for Jessie Jackson's 1988 presidential campaign. She was the first female president of the Alabama New South Coalition, a powerful political organization in Alabama during the 1980s and 90s.


Ms. Pitts spent her entire life fighting to improve the quality of life for African-Americans in Alabama and across the nation. She raised her son, Christopher Pitts, to continue this fight with the same vigor.


Chris Pitts' Emergence As a Political Force in Alabama


After graduating from Jones Law School in Montgomery, Chris Pitts was admitted to the Alabama Bar Association in 2000. Eventually, Pitts became a powerful political figure in the state, as well as a highly successful real estate attorney. At every step along the way, Pitts practiced the politics of inclusion for African-Americans in the political arena and in business. Pitts took his mother's civil rights activism to a higher level.


Pitts rose to power and influence from an entry level position as a legislative clerk in the Alabama Senate to Legislative Director for Lt. Governor Don Siegelman. While serving as Siegelman's Legislative Director, Pitts tracked and killed regressive voter identification bills that were designed to hinder black voter turnout; he killed anti-voter registration legislation that was designed to slow the enrollment of new black voters and remove black registered voters from voter rolls in Alabama counties; he killed abortion bills that attacked Roe v. Wade; and he killed the then-popular "three strikes" legislation that was designed to imprison black offenders for life if they were convicted of three felony offenses.


When Siegelman became governor, he appointed Chris Pitts as Director of Community Relations and Assistant Director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. Pitts was the first African-American to hold these positions. This is where Pitts learned the power of money. At ADECA, Pitts worked hard to make sure state grant money flowed to African-American communities in Alabama which had been historically neglected. He made a lot of powerful enemies in the white community in the process.


Pitts' Economic Empowerment Program Made Him a Modern-Day COINTELPRO Target


When Siegelman left office, Chris Pitts began to focus on his legal and business career. He built a successful law practice growing to three offices (Montgomery, Birmingham, and Huntsville, Alabama) with a focus on real estate, public finance, bankruptcy, and personal injury. Pitts was one of the few African-American attorneys in Alabama who served as a bond attorney on borrowing transactions by government agencies.


In 2005, at age 35, Chris Pitts became the first African-America in the country to win a contract to close real estate transactions for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD"). Over the next three years, Pitts closed more than 5,000 real estate transactions for HUD totaling about $200 million. No black man in Alabama's history ever processed $200 million in real estate transactions for any government agency. Pitts' block of business with HUD had the potential to increase into the billions of dollars with his planned expansion into neighboring states.


After Pitts closed $200 million in HUD real estate transactions, he became the target of modern-day COINTELPRO FBI agents who began a criminal investigation of Pitts for wire fraud. The sheer size, nature and scope of Pitt's real estate closings work was too much for the "Good Ole Boys" network in Alabama to handle, and it brought him squarely within the crosshairs of federal agents and prosecutors in Montgomery, Alabama -- the "Cradle of the Confederacy" and "Heart of Dixie."


In February 2016, the gutless federal prosecutors who used a "too big to prosecute" rationale to avoid prosecuting hundreds of white Wall Street bank CEOs and executives who (a) caused the Great Recession of 2008, (b) cooked their companies' financial books to hide their distressed condition, and (c) caused American investors to lose $13 trillion in wealth came after Pitts with a vengeance. They indicted Pitts on wire fraud charges over a $1,090,888.53 shortfall in the trust accounts Pitts maintained for his HUD transactions.


That's right; federal prosecutors focused on $1 million of the $200 million in HUD transactions Pitts had handled. The $13 trillion in lost American wealth was not important enough for federal prosecutors to lodge criminal charges against the army of white Wall Street executives who crashed the global economy. Those offenders were rewarded with taxpayer "bailout" money, from which they promptly gave themselves bonuses.


Additionally, federal prosecutors did not charge the scores of white Wells Fargo Bank executives who perpetrated a bank fraud scheme that involved the creation of 2 million unauthorized Wells Fargo bank accounts between 2012 and 2016 across the nation for the sole purpose of bilking unsuspecting bank customers out of unearned bank fees.


No, federal prosecutors wanted Chris Pitts. He was more important to them than all of the crooked Wall Street bankers and Wells Fargo executives combined.


It is important to note that prosecutors did not claim that Pitts used the unaccounted for $1,090,888.53 for his personal living expenses, or that he lied to investigators regarding the whereabouts of this money, or that he failed to declare all of his taxable income in any given year, or that he failed to pay taxes on his declared income.


Instead, the prosecutors claimed that Pitts: (a) developed the $1,090,888.53 shortfall over a three-year period as his real estate closings quickly mushroomed to more than 5,000 transactions, (b) commingled lender funds within his HUD trust accounts, (c) failed to alert HUD of the growing shortfall while continuing to service the HUD contract, and (d) knowingly submitted fraudulent documents (i.e., unreconciled transactional statements) to HUD to obscure his alleged fraud scheme. At most, Pitts' conduct evidences understandable accounting mistakes that are typically associated with a rapid surge in business activities, not a crime.


Like their 1960s-era COINTELPRO predecessors, federal prosecutors in Montgomery threatened to charge Pitts' mother and his wife, who is a professionally trained chemist, with fraud even though they had no signatory authority on his HUD trust accounts. The act of making hostages out of innocent relatives is a favorite tactic of COINTELPRO prosecutors. It is designed to put the maximum pressure on the defendant.


Under the (a) duress of an eight-year investigation by HUD and the FBI, (b) stress of an Alabama Bar Association license suspension (c) financial devastation from the loss of his law practice and HUD contract, and (d) imminent threat of danger to his mother and wife, Chris Pitts negotiated and accepted a plea agreement that left him with what he believed was an opportunity to escape imprisonment if a forensic audit could establish that the missing $1,090,888.53 was not the result of a criminal act.


A forensic audit was commissioned by Pitts. The cause of the shortfall was found. Fifteen (15) of the 5,000 closings did not receive the funds that were due to HUD from mortgage giants Washington Mutual, Inc. and Countrywide Financial. With the onset of the 2008 Recession, these giant mortgage lenders struggled to fund scheduled real estate closings for their customers. They eventually collapsed before they could send the missing $1,090,888.53 to Pitts' trust account for the benefit of HUD. Unaware of an impending collapse of the global economy, Pitts closed these 15 real estate loans from available funds in his trust account with the expectation that the funds from Washington Mutual and Countrywide would eventually be received by his office. This money never came. The mystery of the missing $1,090,888.53 was solved, or so Pitts thought.


Like millions of Americans who lost money during the Great Recession of 2008, Chris Pitts was a "victim" of Wall Street's collapse. He was innocent of the government's fraud charges, as he had claimed all along.


As expected, federal prosecutors took no criminal action against the white senior management executives of Washington Mutual and Countrywide who failed to fund the $1,090,888.52 shortfall in Pitts' HUD trust accounts. Likewise, neither federal prosecutors, nor HUD took the administrative action necessary to collect the $1,090,888.35 from the insurance policies Pitts bought to cover this kind of accounting mistake.


One problem remained -- the prosecutors on Pitts' case did not care about the truth regarding the shortfall. This was never their motivation for targeting and prosecuting Pitts. They wanted to take Chris Pitts down.


Federal Judge L. Scott Coogler, a pro-prosecution trial judge based in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, refused Pitts' multiple requests to withdraw from his plea agreement after he was cleared by the forensic audit, stating in one of his orders that "the government would be prejudiced, because at trial Pitts would likely be found innocent." As expected, Judge Coogler, who enjoys a well-known reputation for his open hostility toward black civil and criminal defendants in his courtroom, used self-serving and creative ways to discredit the forensic auditor and two audit reports. Like the COINTELPRO prosecutors in Pitts' case, Judge Coogler was also on a mission -- Jail Chris Pitts at all cost.


After denying Pitts' motions to withdraw from the plea agreement, Judge Coogler sentenced Pitts to 37 months imprisonment. Pitts has appealed Judge Coogler's denial of his motions to withdraw from the plea agreement, as well as his conviction and sentence.


Meanwhile, Chris Pitts has lost his HUD contract, his law license, his businesses in Alabama and Atlanta, his home and other properties, and his freedom. The only thing prosecutors were not able to take from Pitts was his manhood. That's a credit to how Barbara Pitts raised her son.


Louis Franklin, the chief prosecutor in the criminal division of the Montgomery U.S. Attorney's Office, was rewarded for taking down Chris Pitts when President Donald J. Trump appointed him as U.S. Attorney in Montgomery in 2017. Even though Franklin is black, his presence on the scene does not sanitize the racially motivated railroading of Pitts. It only makes the prosecutorial mistreatment in Pitts' case more sickening.


Epilogue


Chris Pitts is in prison for the same matter that the Alabama State Bar reviewed and categorized, at most, as mere "negligence" at the conclusion of a 2010 hearing. Pitts was disbarred only after his conviction in 2019.


Pitts was represented in the Alabama State Bar hearing by Attorney George Beck, who argued that Pitts had "committed no crime" and that his "actions were honorable." After Beck was appointed U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama in 2011, his office indicted Pitts on the same HUD shortfall issue Beck represented Pitts on in front of the Alabama Bar Association.


Christopher Pitts is the first and only person in the history of the American legal system to be both defended and later prosecuted for the exact same legal issue by same attorney in both matters.


The Department of Justice's blatant racism and selective prosecution in Chris Pitts' case is unforgivable.


Tomorrow, we will present the case of "Dr. Mbanefo, a Victim of Xenophobia" in "God Wears a Robe" - Part 4.



PHOTO: Real Estate Attorney, Christopher Pitts

PHOTO: Civil Rights Icon, Barbara Pitts

© 2020 by Donald V. Watkins, P.C.