Ex-Clarke County sheriff charged with lying about loans

MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – Former Clarke County Sheriff Ray Norris, who resigned last year over allegations of wrongdoing, now faces federal charges.

In March, a state court judge dismissed charges against Norris after determining that the Alabama attorney general’s office had agreed not to prosecute him if he resigned from office. But that same day, a federal grand jury in Mobile handed over an indictment. The indictment, which a federal judge recently released, accuses Norris of applying for the loans under false pretences.

Four of those loans from 2017 and 2018, totaling $48,400, were supposed to be for jail food and the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office. But prosecutors allege the sheriff actually used the money to pay off overdrawn personal accounts, gambling expenses and other personal expenses – including paying off a loan for a boat.

The indictment also alleges that Norris obtained a $68,887 loan to purchase a Boush Cutter. Instead, prosecutors argue he used the money to pay off an overdue account.

Norris is scheduled to appear in federal court on Wednesday for arraignment. Movable attorney Gordon Armstrong said he plans to represent Norris, but added he hasn’t reviewed the charges closely enough to comment.

The indictment also includes three counts against Gulf Shores resident Danny Lee Beard Sr., a longtime friend of Norris.

The indictment accuses Beard and Norris of falsely stating that a $75,000 loan they requested in 2019 was to purchase rental equipment. But $25,000 went to pay off existing loans the same bank had made to Norris and his wife.

The indictment charges Beard, separately, with making a false statement in order to induce Sweet Water State Bank to loan him $51,606 in 2020. He signed a statement certifying that he owned construction equipment that he had pledged a 2011 JD 437D loader and a 2000 Freightliner, and that he had no intention of selling them. In fact, according to the indictment, he did not own the loader and intended to sell the Freightliner to a company called Conserv Equipment Leasing.

The final tally accuses Beard of fraudulently obtaining a $74,207 loan under the Paycheck Protection Program on behalf of HADDCO LLC, a company he organized in 2011. At the time of the application in 2021 , the company had not reported salaries since the third quarter of 2019. .

Beard pleaded not guilty to the charges on Wednesday. His lawyer, Dennis Knizley, called his client’s banking relationship a “local bank”. Although he said he had a piece of equipment he didn’t, Knizley said, “Security was never compromised.”

As to why his client co-signed a loan with Norris, Knizley said the two were longtime friends. He said it was part of Clarke County’s “good old boy network.”

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