ATLANTA - An Alabama grand jury Monday indicted Gov. Guy Hunt on 13 felony counts that include theft allegations, but rating agency officials said yesterday that they do not foresee the charges affecting the state's double-A ratings.
In addition to the theft counts, which charge that Hunt illegally diverted $200,000 from his 1987 inauguration for his own use, the Montgomery County grand jury also charged the governor with conspiracy, receiving stolen goods, and ethics violations. Hunt's arraignment has been set for Jan. 20.
Although Alabama law allows Hunt to remain in office while under indictment, he would be automatically removed if convicted of a felony charge. The Republican governor has two years remaining in his second four-year term.
"If the indictment poses problems for the smooth administration of government in Alabama, or if there is evidence of mismanagement of public accounts, we will become concerned about the rating," said Robert Swerdling, a director at Standard & Poor's Corp. "Right now, that doesn't seem to be the case, and we don't anticipate it becoming the case."
Steven Hochman, assistant director of state ratings at Moody's Investors Service, and Richard Raphael, managing director at Fitch Investors Service, voiced similar assessments.
"We are not aware of anything in the charges that has a direct implication on the state's credit rating." said Hochman.
"I do not see any immediate impact," said Raphael.
Alabama's $560 million of general obligation debt is rated Aa by Moody's and AA by Standard & Poor's and Fitch.
Hunt, who expressed outrage Monday at the indictment, said he would fight the charges.
"These charges are shocking outrageous falsehoods," the governor said in a statement made available shortly after he posted bail. "I am absolutely innocent of these allegations, and will be proven innocent in a court of law."
In a separate statement, the governor's press secretary, Terry Abbott, accused state Attorney General Jimmy Evans of conducting a vendetta against Hunt.
"These phony charges against a sitting Republican governor are a thinly veiled attempt to damage him, his family, and the Republican party," Abbott said. "The best Jimmy Evans can do is make libelous charges about the use of inaugural funds six years ago."
Evans, who has been leading the investigation against Hunt. was not available for comment yesterday.
The grand jury also filed charges against Gene McKenzie, Hunt's inaugural fund accountant, and Rosie Blocher and Edna Earl Hicks, two former aides.
The most serious charges in the indictment accuse Hunt and the other defendants of illegally siphoning off $200,00 from the Hunt Transition and Inaugural Fund Inc. for personal use.
Hunt used his "official position or office to obtain direct personal financial gain, to wit: $200,000 for himself or his family ... against the peace and dignity of the State of Alabama," according to the indictment.
The indictments follow more than a year of controversy surrounding the state's first Republican governor since Reconstruction. In the fall of 1991, a state ethics committee investigating his use of state aircraft for out-of-state preaching trips said that there was "probable cause" that Hunt had improperly used the planes for personal gain. Hunt is a Primitive Baptist preacher.
The grand jury's action marks the first time in Alabama history that a governor has been indicted on felony charges. Only two other sitting governors have been indicted since 1980: Evan Mecham of Arizona in 1987 and Edwin Edwards of Louisiana in 1985. Neither Mecham nor Edwards was convicted.