Eleven people — including four current Alabama state legislators, three lobbyists and two businessmen with casino interests — were charged Monday for their roles in an alleged conspiracy to influence pro-gambling state legislation. FBI agents arrested seven as of mid-Monday, and federal officials said the rest of those named in the wide-ranging probe would be in custody by the end of the day.
Conversations unveiled in the indictment released Monday by the Justice Department and the FBI show that Alabama politicians and lobbyists allegedly used hard ball tactics and salty language that could make even former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich blush.
The two businessmen at the center of the probe, Milton McGregor (a 71-year old businessman with a controlling interest in two casinos including one called Victoryland) and Ronald Gilley (who owned a controlling interest in Country Crossing and wanted to offer electronic gambling), allegedly hired three lobbyists to work on their behalf. They allegedly bribed state legislators to vote in favor of legislation which would have benefited businesses operating electronic bingo facilities during the 2009 and 2010 Alabama state legislative sessions.
In one instance, McGregor, Gilley and their primary lobbyist, Jarrod D. Massey, allegedly sought to bribe a member of the Alabama Senate with $1 million to be used at the legislator’s discretion, which would have been funneled through a public relations job. Other bribes came in the form of campaign contributions and even campaign appearances by country music stars, as the New York Times reported.
Also named in the indictment are State Senators Larry P. Means, James E. Preuitt, Quinton T. Ross Jr. and Harri Anne H. Smith, who are alleged to have “corruptly solicited, demanded, accepted and agreed to accept money and things of value from their co-conspirators and others, intending to be influenced and rewarded in connection with pro-gambling legislation,” according to the Justice Department. There are several unnamed legislators in the indictment, and the probe is anticipated to widen in the coming weeks and months. Another individual charged in the case, Jennifer D. Pouncy, pleaded guilty last week to one count of conspiracy for her role in the scheme, accepted a deal and is cooperating with the government.
McGregor, according to the indictment, agreed with an unnamed legislator who said he wanted the authority to say to his fellow legislators: “if you fuckers fuck us on this [legislation] … there will be no peace… We’re coming after your ass.” McGregor said he was “110% on board with” telling politicians they were going to be judged on their vote, the feds allege. It is unclear if the unnamed state legislators were cooperating with the government, but some state legislators reportedly acknowledged wearing wires as part of the probe.
Gilley allegedly promised to provide campaign support and contributions to an unnamed legislator — referred to in the indictment as Legislator 1 — “until the damn cows come home,” in exchange for his or her vote on the “Sweet Home Alabama” legislation, which would have allowed a vote on electronic bingo casinos. But when the 2009 legislative session ended without a vote on the bill, Gilley resorted to threats, according to the indictment, telling Legislator 1 that if he or she did not vote in favor, “we’ll do everything we can to take your ass out.”
In a telephone conversation on March 22, 2010, third-term senator Means allegedly told McGregor that there was “nothing I want to do more than help you” pass the pro-gambling legislation. “I’m going to probably need a bunch of help now,” he allegedly said in reference to the re-election challenge he faced.
“Well, you got me … and whatever it takes for Larry Means to come back, that’s what we gonna do. That’s the bottom line,” McGregor responded, the indictment alleges. Means, the feds alleged, then asked Massey and Gilley to contribute $100,000 to his re-election campaign, at which point Gilley told Massey that Means “can one-hundred percent count on our support.”
“We’re gonna support who supports democracy,” Gilley said, according to court documents. “And the motherfucker who doesn’t support democracy get ready to get their fucking ass busted.”
When a third unnamed legislator ultimately declined to support the legislation, Gilley and Massey warned that were “going to make [Legislator 2’s] life a holy hell,” the feds allege. Gilley later added, “under normal circumstances, I would beat his ass,” according to the charges.
One of the federal prosecutors who is under investigation for alleged misconduct in the botched case against Sen. Ted Stevens is involved with the Alabama case.
Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division said the Stevens case has nothing to do with the merits of the Alabama corruption probe. Breuer described Brenda Morris as one of the “excellent” lawyers on the team. “What we want to do is provide the very best team to investigate the alleged wrongdoing so that we serve the public interest as great as we can,” Breuer said in a phone call with reporters Monday.
Another of the federal prosecutors on the Stevens case who had been under investigation took his own life last week. He had believed that the Justice Department had “scapegoated” him for prosecutorial missteps while allowing Morris and another higher ranking federal prosecutor, William Welch III, to continue to prosecute cases.
The U.S. Attorney’s office in the Middle District of Alabama has been recused from the case, but Breuer wouldn’t say why. An initial court appearance is scheduled later today.
Update: As Zach Roth previously reported, a lawyer for Massey had asked that the probe be taken out of the hands of U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama Leura Canary’s office because of her “close political ties” to Governor Bob Riley, who strongly opposed the legislation.
Court documents embedded below. Johanna Barr contributed reporting.