UPDATED: 1:38 p.m.
Federal law enforcement arrested 11 individuals in Alabama Monday including the owner of the state’s largest casino and four state lawmakers as part of a public corruption probe involving a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution that would legalize electronic bingo.
The defendants include Milton McGregor, owner of VictoryLand racing in Shorter, Ala.; Ronald E. Gilley, a businessman who owns a gambling development company in Houston County, Ala.; and four state senators: Harri Anne Smith (I), Jim Preuitt (R), Quinton Ross (D) and Larry Means (D). McGregor and Gilley are charged with conspiracy, federal program bribery, and honest services mail and wire fraud. The four state senators are charged with conspiracy, extortion and federal program bribery.
Three lobbyists – Jarrod Massey of MANTA Governmental; Thomas E. Coker of Coker & Associates, and Robert B. Geddie Jr. of Fine Geddie & Associates — also were arrested and face conspiracy and bribery charges.
The 11 defendants were charged in an indictment Friday that was unsealed today.
“The alleged criminal scheme was astonishing in scope,” Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer of the Criminal Division said at Justice Department headquarters on Monday. “Indeed, as alleged in the indictment, the defendants’ corrupt conduct infiltrated every layer of the legislative process in the state of Alabama.”
According to the criminal information, McGregor, Gilley and their lobbyists allegedly promoted the passage of the electronic bingo amendment by offering bribes and campaign contributions to several state lawmakers.
McGregor and lobbyist Geddie allegedly provided a $5,000 campaign contribution to an unnamed member of the Alabama House of Representatives in exchange for his vote on the bingo legislation.
Means, who represents Attala, Ala. in the northeast portion of the state, allegedly solicited bribes from McGregor, Gilley, Massey and others, asking specifically for $100,000 in return for voting in favor of the legislation.
McGregor, lobbyist Coker, Gilley, Massey and an employee of Gilley’s, Jarrell W. Walker Jr., also sought to bribe Preuitt, offering him $2 million, the use of country music stars in his reelection campaign and allegedly offering to buy cars from his auto dealership in exchange for his vote.
Ross allegedly solicited campaign contributions from McGregory and Gilley, while Smith allegedly lobbied other state senators to vote for the legislation in exchange for campaign contributions from Gilley.
Last week, Jennifer D. Pouncy, who worked for Massey, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy for her part in the scheme.
The DOJ first disclosed the probe in April. According to the Birmingham news, two state lawmakers told the Justice Department that they were offered large campaign contributions in exchange for their votes in support of the legislation. The two lawmakers agreed to wear wires to help the DOJ with its investigation.
The investigation had inflamed tensions between state Democrats and Republican-appointed U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, who prosecuted former Gov. Don Siegelman (D) and whose husband has close ties to Republican Gov. Bob Riley, who strongly opposes the amendment.
Breuer said the Public Integrity Section was handling the probe and Canary’s office — except for Assistant U.S. Attorneys Louis V. Franklin and Steve P. Feaga — was recused.
Alabama Democrats had previously complained to Breuer in a letter, charging that the “unprecedented” disclosure of the investigation was meant to have a “chilling effect” on state legislators who otherwise might have voted for the legislation.
“Public corruption investigations and prosecutions are among the most difficult that the Criminal Division undertakes. These cases, in which the stakes are always high, often attract great scrutiny and require the utmost professionalism to pursue,” Breuer said. “I have said before that we will follow the facts where they lead and root out corruption wherever we find it. Today, the facts have led us to arresting and charging these 11 defendants with federal crimes.”
The case is being prosecuted by Senior Deputy Chief Peter J. Ainsworth and Trial Attorneys Eric G. Olshan, Barak Cohen and E. Rae Woods of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and Senior Litigation Counsel Brenda K. Morris of the Criminal Division, in addition to the two Middle District of Alabama Assistant U.S. Attorneys.
Morris, a veteran trial lawyer in the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section, was a member of the trial team in the botched prosecution of Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens. (A federal judge appointed a special prosecutor to investigate whether she and five other Justice Department lawyers violated criminal contempt statutes in their handling of evidence in the Stevens case. The results of that investigation are expected soon.)
Morris was principal deputy chief of the Public Integrity Section until September, when she moved to Atlanta for personal reasons. She remains an employee of the Criminal Division — her title is senior litigation counsel — but is based in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia.
Breuer said Morris is “one of a number of excellent lawyers” working on the case.
“Brenda Morris is one of the lawyers, who was involved in the Stevens case, but frankly that has absolutely nothing to do with the substance and merits of this case,” Breuer said.
Additional reporting by Andrew Ramonas.
This article has been updated since it was first posted.