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Alabama governor accused of affair by fired official

By ALAN BLINDER and DANIEL VICTOR

One day after his dismissal, Alabama's former law enforcement secretary accused Gov. Robert Bentley on Wednesday of having an extramarital affair with one of his senior advisers, and he said that he had cautioned the governor about the risk of illegal conduct if any state resources were used to facilitate an affair.

In a news conference at his lawyer's office here, the fired official, Spencer Collier repeatedly asserted that Bentley, whose wife divorced him last year, had an inappropriate relationship with Rebekah Caldwell Mason, a longtime aide whom Collier referred to as the state's "de facto governor." Collier said that when he confronted the governor last summer, he told Bentley about the possibility of illegal behavior.

At the time, Collier said, Bentley said he had done nothing illegal. But Wednesday afternoon, Collier, who led the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, said, "I think the governor owes the people of Alabama an explanation." Bentley's spokeswoman did not respond to repeated messages Wednesday, but the governor has previously denied an improper relationship with Mason. He is expected to hold a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

Mason, who is married, is no longer on the state government's payroll but is a frequent presence in Bentley's suite of offices at the state Capitol. She could not be reached Wednesday.

Collier, who served with Bentley in the Legislature, said that he first became aware of the relationship in August 2014 after a member of the governor's security detail observed "a text that was sexual in nature." Within days, Collier said, someone in the governor's family provided a recording of "an inappropriate sexual conversation." Collier confronted Bentley the same day while the men traveled to an event in Greenville, Alabama.

"I told Gov. Bentley that I loved him like a father and that there was nothing I wouldn't do for him, except lie to a grand jury," Collier said Wednesday. "I made Gov. Bentley aware of the recording that I heard. I told Gov. Bentley there was no need to try and explain it for anything other than it was. It was very obvious that it was sexual in nature." Bentley "simply hung his head and asked for advice on how to get out of it," Collier said.

Collier said that he warned the governor that using state resources to facilitate the affair amounted to a crime, and that Bentley assured him that he had violated no laws.

Joseph C. Espy III, a criminal defense lawyer whom Collier said represented Bentley, did not respond to a phone call or an email.

Collier spoke less than 24 hours after Bentley announced his dismissal. In a statement Tuesday night, Bentley said that an internal review of Collier's agency had "found a number of issues, including possible misuse of state funds." Collier denied any wrongdoing and said he would cooperate with any inquiries. A spokesman for the state attorney general declined to comment.

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