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Monday, February 19, 2007

Ex-Ala. State employee faces charges

The former director of Alabama State University's Brewton branch and her husband were charged Friday with using materials and labor paid for by ASU to improve a home and a business they owned.

The director's husband, investigators said, also took state prisoners paid to work at the school and subcontracted them out for a fee to other area residents.

Margaret A. Bradley, also known as Margaret Breland-Bradley, surrendered to authorities along with her husband, Charles Bradley Jr., on Friday afternoon, entering the Escambia County Sheriff's Office without a word.

According to a six-count indictment, Margaret Bradley violated state ethics laws by using state inmates assigned to the Alabama State University Southern Normal Campus in Brewton to build a gazebo at her residence and by using bricks illegally taken from the school.

According to the indictments announced Friday, more of the school's bricks were used to build The Barber Shop Mall, owned by the former educator and her husband in East Brewton.

Investigators said the couple also installed cabinets at their business and used other building materials there that belonged to the university. They also used inmate labor to do various other odd jobs at their residence, according to investigators. Further, the indictment states, Margaret Bradley had landscaping performed at her home that she billed to the school.

Charles Bradley was charged with three counts of theft, accusing him of taking the bricks and accepting money to subcontract inmates to work for other people. He also stands accused of taking cabinets and other building materials from the school.

Attempts to reach the Bradleys on Friday were unsuccessful, but Escambia County Sheriff Grover Smith said the couple appeared "devastated" by the charges. He added that they claimed the charges were politically motivated.

Hugh Evans, general counsel for the Alabama Ethics Commission, said the probe by the state agency began months ago when a Brewton-area resident called to complain about the Bradleys.

"We investigated the case and referred our findings to the Ethics Commission in December," Evans said Friday. "It was the commission's finding that Margaret Bradley used Alabama State University" resources and property illegally.

Evans said his office referred the case to Escambia County District Attorney Steve Billy's office, and aided in presenting the case to the grand jury in late January into early February.

Calls to Alabama State University for comment were not returned Friday.

Margaret Bradley was placed on administrative leave in May 2006 as Alabama State probed what a spokeswoman called the director's alleged lack of adherence to guidelines for university policies, standards and finances.

Her contract to serve as director was not renewed at the end of the year.

Alabama State University's main campus is in Montgomery. The predominantly black institution was founded in 1867 and has a universitywide enrollment of 5,269 students.

Margaret Bradley's contract with the state university came a few years after a turbulent 21-month term as Escambia County superintendent of education. Bradley was not only the first woman, but the first black person to serve as the county's schools superintendent.

The Escambia County Board of Education voted not to renew her contract in 2000 after questions arose regarding expenditures such as a $100,000 computer software program.

Bradley filed a federal lawsuit against the county school system claiming gender and racial discrimination, but the case was dismissed in 2003.

Bradley served as an educator and administrator in New York City schools before moving to Brewton, her hometown, about nine years ago. Since she moved back to the area, Bradley has served on several local and regional civic organization boards, drawing praise for her efforts from colleagues.

News releases just before she was suspended from her post at Alabama State detail a $100,000 grant for the Brewton ASU facility from the Alabama State Department of Education for a Principals' Center in School Reform. Bradley was in charge of running the center, which offered a leadership training course one Saturday a month from February through July.

The course was open to 25 principals and 25 aspiring principals, according to the news release, and quoted Bradley as saying the administrators needed to be taught "academic and fiscal accountability" to be successful.


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