By Colleen Jenkins and Letitia Stein
(Reuters) – Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley could face possible criminal charges after the state ethics commission found probable cause that he violated state ethics and campaign finance laws.
The Alabama Ethics Commission’s findings after a closed session Wednesday will be reviewed by a local prosecutor to decide whether further action against the governor is warranted.
Bentley, a two-term Republican governor, faces escalating political fallout for his relationship with a former senior adviser. He has been persecuted for the past year for questions about his potentially inappropriate use of state resources.
A committee of the state House of Representatives has been conducting a separate investigation and is expected to issue a report on Friday, which could start the impeachment process.
Bentley denies any legal wrongdoing. His attorney, Bill Athanas, said the ethics commission’s finding of probable cause was disappointing and promised a vigorous defense.
“We believe there is no basis that the governor violated any laws,” Athanas told reporters Wednesday night. “So the battle continues.”
After allegations of a scandal erupted last year, Bentley apologized for making inappropriate comments to married employee Rebekah Mason, while denying allegations of a physical affair. Mason resigned when questions about the couple’s relationship began to dominate Alabama politics.
Bentley’s wife filed for divorce in August 2015 after 50 years of marriage, citing unspecified issues.
The ethics commission reached its conclusion after a year-long investigation that included the review of 33,000 documents and 45 witness interviews, the panel said in a statement.
If accused of violating Alabama ethics or campaign finance laws, Bentley could face up to 20 years in prison for violation, the commission said.
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