A federal jury in Alabama acquitted all six defendants in the “bingo trial” on Wednesday, dealing the Department of Justice a stinging setback just a day after its big victory in the case of financier R. Allen Stanford.
The jury declined to convict anyone in what prosecutors said was a shabby scheme to get electronic bingo gambling approved in the state. The verdict was doubly disappointing, since an earlier trial ended in acquittals for two defendants and a hung jury for others, prompting second-guessing about prosecutors’ tactics.
Early reports of Wednesday’s verdict, which cleared some present and former Alabama state lawmakers, were posted on the website of The Montgomery Advertiser.
M. Kendall Day of the DOJ’s Public Integrity Section had taken the lead in this trial, which produced unflattering glimpses of how business is done in the Heart of Dixie, regardless of the not-guilty verdicts. As Main Justice noted recently, the case dredged up vestiges of racism in a state where it was once rampant, and it prompted speculation that Washington prosecutors overstepped in wresting control of the case from Alabama-bred litigators.
The bingo episode also spawned widespread grumbling that Leura Canary, the Republican-appointed United States Attorney when the scandal first bubbled up nearly two years ago, was out to embarrass the state’s Democrats.
The verdict in the Middle District of Alabama came just a day after a federal jury in Houston found that financier Stanford had essentially run a multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme, enriching himself while costing some people their live savings.
Regardless of the not-guilty verdicts in Alabama, the state’s citizens cannot be blamed for feeling that someone must be guilty of something. For one thing, a former lobbyist, Jarrod Massey, pleaded guilty in December 2010 to conspiring to bribe lawmakers, as Main Justice reported. One of Massey’s aides also pleaded guilty. Massey and his aide were among 11 original defendants, including four state lawmakers.
But the case produced continuing setbacks and embarrassments for the DOJ. Last April, a federal judge chided prosecutors for delays in handing over material to the defense, as Main Justice reported. Only weeks later, the DOJ scored a victory, when a gambling hall operator pleaded guilty (see Main Justice’s report), but in August a federal jury acquitted some defendants and was deadlocked on others (see our report).
Later, the judge overseeing the second go-around in the case declared that some prosecution witnesses were racists, not crusaders for good government. All in all, the bingo case is one the DOJ may want to forget. So might those who carry about the image of Alabama, which was definitely not enhanced, despite the acquittals.