Gambling corruption case began trial Monday

Published 9:28am Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The sensational and much anticipated gambling corruption case comes to trial this Monday in Federal Court in Montgomery. Presiding over the case will be the very highly regarded senior federal jurist in the Middle District, Myron Thompson. Judge Thompson has been on the federal bench in Montgomery for over 30 years having been appointed by President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s.

There were originally twelve defendants. That number has dwindled to nine with three having pled guilty prior to the trial. The latest to plead guilty was Country Crossing developer Ronnie Gilley, who bailed out in late April just six weeks prior to the trial.

Two preliminary rulings have gone against the defendants. Attorneys for two of the defendants asked for separate trials arguing that trying all of the accused together would prejudice their case. Judge Thompson denied their motion. In another issue federal prosecutors failed to deliver all the required documents they had gathered to defense attorneys. This violation would have allowed the Court to completely throw out the case. However, the Court simply rebuked and reprimanded prosecutors and threatened sanctions but allowed the case to proceed.

The nine remaining defendants, including four present and former state senators, are accused of buying and selling votes on legislation designed to tax and regulate electronic bingo. Whether the nine prominent defendants are found guilty will have no political repercussions or effect on Alabama politics. The indictments, which came down last October just prior to the November elections, were designed and orchestrated to have a political fallout. However, the only issue on the minds of Alabamians was voting against anybody who had a “D” by their name because they might be remotely associated with Barack Obama or Nancy Pelosi. The national anti Democratic vote was the overwhelming driving force that annihilated the Democratic Party in Alabama. That tsunami came from Washington, not Montgomery.

One of the state senators on trial, Quinton Ross of Montgomery, is in a safe Democratic seat and, if convicted, will be replaced by another Democrat. Senator Harri Ann Smith, if convicted, will be replaced by another Republican. Her Wiregrass seat is a safe Republican bastion. The other two state senators have left politics.

The lobbyists remaining on trial, Tom Coker and Bob Geddie, are two of the most prominent in Montgomery and have been powers behind the scene for decades. However, their demise would not affect Alabama politics. Their clients will simply go elsewhere.

The last defendant, Milton McGregor, owner of the state’s most successful gambling facility, has already been destroyed financially by Riley’s raids. His patrons picked up their chips and moved to the Indian reservations in Atmore, Wetumpka and Mississippi.

The bottom line is that the state’s electronic bingo business has been transferred to the Indian casinos. McGregor’s VictoryLand business has literally gone south. The state receives no tax revenue from the Indians. The big loser in this entire scenario is Macon County. VictoryLand was that county’s largest employer and also its largest revenue source. The legislation, which authorized electronic bingo and gambling in this very poor county, allocated percentages of the revenue derived from gambling to Macon County schools and government. The removal of their largest industry is analogous to removing the State Docks from Mobile or Redstone Arsenal from Huntsville.

Another question often asked is whether these indictments are political. The answer is probably yes. There is an old maxim that you can indict a potato. This is confirmed by most prosecutors. The prosecutor in this case, U.S. Attorney Leaura Canary and her husband are inextricably tied to Bob Riley. It also does not pass the smell test that the Obama administration has left a Republican U.S. Attorney in this post over two years after a Democrat should have been in place. This has happened nowhere else in America and reeks of politics. Especially given the fact that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was on retainer from the Indian gambling interests prior to his appointment as Attorney General and Bob Riley’s largest contributor to his 2002 gubernatorial campaign was the Indian gambling industry.

The Indian gambling interests won the legislative battle and will win again if these folks are convicted. The Indians are in a win-win situation. In this case the Indians win and the cowboys lose.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 72 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

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