Former state Capitol figure acquitted in Ala. bribery trial

Deep in this Associated Press file, as one of the six acquitted, is the name of Jay Walker, the former chief of staff to House Speaker Glenn Richardson here in Georgia:

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A jury acquitted a casino owner, three current or former state lawmakers and two other defendants on all counts Wednesday in a high-profile federal case that alleged the legislators were being bribed to legalize gambling in the state.

The jury returned its verdict after seven days of deliberations. One-by-one, each defendant stepped up to a podium in front of the judge to hear the verdicts. They nodded in agreement with the jury’s decision, squeezed their attorneys’ hand or bounced nervously as the clerk said not guilty. Family members in the gallery sobbed in relief, and when court recessed, there were hugs all around.

“We feel like this case was built on innuendos, lies and half-truths,” said Tom Coker, a casino lobbyist who was among those acquitted.

The federal investigation of vote buying began with three Republican legislators telling the FBI they were offered campaign contributions if they would support legislation designed to let electronic bingo games operate in Alabama.

Federal prosecutors said behind the scenes, two casino operators and their lobbyists were offering millions in campaign contributions, benefit concerts by country music entertainers, free polling and other incentives for votes.

The trial was the second for the defendants. The first ended in August with no convictions, two defendants acquitted, and the jury unable to resolve all charges against the remaining defendants.

“This is truly a day to celebrate, and ladies and gentlemen, the celebration starts now,” said VictoryLand casino owner Milton McGregor.

State Sen. Harri Anne Smith said she would walk into the Senate on Thursday and get to vote again.

“I got my life back today and I want to thank God for that jury,” Smith said.

Also acquitted were former Sens. Larry Means and Jim Preuitt, and Country Crossing casino spokesman Jay Walker.

McGregor, the casino owner, was accused of offering large campaign contributions to legislators for their votes for gambling legislation. Smith and the former senators were accused of agreeing to accept bribes in return for their votes.

The jury found McGregor and the others innocent on charges that included conspiracy and bribery.

The case was the latest in a series of government corruption investigations in Alabama, including the conviction of former Gov. Don Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy on bribery charges in 2006 and a probe of Alabama’s two-year college system that brought down three legislators and the system’s former chancellor in 2008.

The three Republican legislators who cooperated with the FBI recorded calls and meetings and the FBI tapped phones during a yearlong probe that coincided with Republican Gov. Bob Riley creating a task force to shut down electronic bingo. Riley said the machines, featuring flashing lights and sound effects, were illegal slot machines and not simply an electronic version of paper bingo.

Riley’s task force seized machines and won court battles while casino operators failed in 2009 and in 2010 to pass protective legislation.

Ronnie Gilley, the developer of Country Crossing casino, and two of his lobbyists, Jennifer Pouncy and Jarrod Massey, pleaded guilty to conspiracy. Former state Rep. Terry Spicer of Elba also pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from Massey and Gilley. All four helped the prosecution and are scheduled for sentencing in April.

Prosecutors said Gilley provided Smith with $200,000 in campaign money, plus a fundraising concert by John Anderson and Lorrie Morgan. They accused Gilley and McGregor of promising Means $100,000 for his vote. They accused Gilley, McGregor and Walker of promising Preuitt $2 million in contributions, a fundraising concert by country music starts and other campaign support.

Defense attorneys argued the case was based on lies told by the guilty in hopes of getting lighter punishment.

All three indicted senators voted for the gambling legislation when it passed the Senate on March 30, 2010. The FBI announced its investigation two days later, and the bill died in the House without coming to a vote.

McGregor’s casino, 15 miles east of Montgomery, was once the state’s largest with 6,000 machines, but it has been closed since the crackdown in 2010. Other casinos, including one in Dothan operated by Gilley’s former partners, are operating.

One thing that was never in dispute in the trial was the profitability of electronic bingo. McGregor’s attorneys acknowledged his casino in Shorter made $40 million in 2009 when it was operating all year and lost $4 million in 2010 when it was closed most of the year.

We’re told that a local post-trial interview is being livestreamed here, with comments anticipated from Walker.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

For instant updates, follow me on Twitter, or connect with me on Facebook.

17 comments Add your comment

double

March 7th, 2012
11:27 am

Thought Jay Walking was illegal.

ed depue

March 7th, 2012
11:38 am

Second time was the charm for the defendants. However, all the defendants had to spend tons of money to defend themselves. The Federal prosecutors should have to reimburse the defendants for their legal fees, but we know that won’t happen. I believe this case was a political witch hunt done at the expense of the taxpayers. The prosecutors are low-life scum.

Dirty Dawg

March 7th, 2012
11:44 am

Well that does it…with yet another ‘rigged’ Alabama trial/jury verdict…we can kiss goodbye any chance of a plea-bargained deal that would have given us the ‘evidence’ of Auburn’s pay-for-play program and the truth about Cammy and Papi Newton. Oh well, nobody ever said life was fair…certainly not in Alabama, unless you’re in on the deal of course.

n

March 7th, 2012
12:27 pm

What they did is standard operating procedure for southern politicians. I guess that’s their defense.
That’s why the South remains backwater. It’s politicians are marketable to the highest bidder, and tit’s citizens are contrarian and clueless.

D man

March 7th, 2012
12:41 pm

Here is a great video that explains the new Obama care bill that we will all have to enroll in or will be penalized. Please watch if you care about your health.

http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=HcBaSP31Be8&vg=medium

Rhett Butler

March 7th, 2012
12:50 pm

Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

Centrist

March 7th, 2012
12:52 pm

Accurate blog post linked on Drudge:

Romney Scores Big Win; Press Fails to Notice

Mitt Romney won a crushing victory Tuesday, winning twice as many states as Rick Santorum and more that two and half times as many delegates, but his triumph is being portrayed in headlines across the nation as sign of weakness and failure.
Romney is being widely panned by the press for an “inability to close the deal,” and yet the description seems far more apt for Santorum, who now has blown huge leads in the most critical contests of recent weeks, Ohio and Michigan. If anything, the more voters look at Santorum, the more concerned they become and less likely they are to sign on the dotted line.

Worse for Santorum, he will continue for the foreseeable future to split the most conservative votes with Newt Gingrich – who stays in after winning Georgia – and with Ron Paul, who would remain in the race until 2018 if he could. And Romney has a war chest that will swamp Santorum in the upcoming air wars for closely contested states.

And yet, despite all the evidence Romney largely vanquished his rivals Tuesday night, here are some of the headlines this morning:

Wall Street Journal: Romney Ekes Past Santorum in Ohio

New York Times: With No Knockout Punch, a Bruising Battle Plods On

Los Angeles Times: Battle in Ohio Reinforces GOP Divide; Romney’s Slim Victory Leaves Race Uncertain

USA Today: Romney, Santorum See Momentum

CNN: No Knockout Blow for Romney

Reuters: Romney Narrowly Wins Ohio, Fails to Knock Out Santorum

You get the idea.

There are several reasons for this.

All reporting is now sports reporting. Reporters love a battle and they love to go on TV and rave about how exciting everything is. And editors seek a bracing and never-ending storyline because it draws readers and ultimately pleases their corporate bosses, who want to sell papers and generate pageviews.

And reporters also tend to be moderate to liberal. Bloodletting among Republicans at some level is agreeable to many of them.
That Romney is in all likelihood on the march toward nomination will probably soon become too apparent for any serious journalist to deny.

Lyin lobbyist

March 7th, 2012
1:30 pm

Would you believe a lying lobbyist or a lying lawyer?

Teddy Roosevelt

March 7th, 2012
1:45 pm

[...] The last (allegedly) smoking guns in the Newton saga are acquitted on all charges related to bribery charges in connection with gambling legislation in Alabama. [...]

A former governor

March 7th, 2012
2:11 pm

so glad my buddy Jay got off. now it’a time to go fish.

td

March 7th, 2012
2:26 pm

I bet Jim does not have the courage to run this story on his blog tomorrow..

http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2012/03/07/buzzefeed-selectively-edits-obama-tape

John

March 7th, 2012
2:41 pm

It is amazing that people keep slinging mud at Cam Newton, who has been cleared time after time of false charges thrown at him.

Ashley Dawson

March 7th, 2012
2:56 pm

This state is missing the bigger picture…..Georgians can now take their paychecks and go spend them in Alabama casinos, there by increasing their state coffers. I guess the Southern Baptist are happy about that. I guess Belle Watling was right somebody we’ll take my money, even if it not Georgia.

WOW

March 7th, 2012
3:00 pm

@ Centrist:

Its not the MSM playing up last night it the conservative press.

http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0312/73725.html

View From Midtown

March 7th, 2012
3:22 pm

Careful Dirty Dawg, your wacky conspiracy theories are showing. Don’t you need to hurry up and line the windows of your double-wide with aluminum foil before the black helicopters show up?

Dirty Dawg

March 7th, 2012
5:12 pm

Hey midtown, remember this when one day the truth ‘outs’ on Cammy and Daddy. Believe me when I tell you that Uncle Milty McGregor is as crooked as they come and at the center of the Auburn ‘payola’ cesspool. That day will be when the ‘hush money’ runs out and those in on the deal start writing books and/or needs a ‘walk’ on some other mess they’ll likely get caught up in.