Four lawmakers among eleven indicted in Alabama bingo controversy
By Al Ortiz
MONTGOMERY, Alabama: An investigation that began shortly after a late March 2010 state legislative vote relating to the Alabama electronic bingo amendment has now picked up momentum. According to reports, 11 people have been charged as part of a 39-count indictment in the federal corruption case, which includes four state senators. The investigation surrounds the proposed electronic bingo amendment, which would have let voters decide whether or not to allow electronic bingo operate in the state.
After the proposed measure was passed in the Alabama State Senate, the Federal Bureau of Investigations contacted lawmakers, stating their intentions to begin an investigation to see if any members of the Senate had been offered any incentive in exchange for supporting votes. Governor of Alabama Bob Riley, who opposed the measure, denied rumors that he had anything to do with the FBI investigation. Riley stated, "It really is somewhat silly to say the governor's office would have any influence or control of an FBI investigation." Zeb Little disagreed, at the time stating, "The governor is using everything in the book to deny the people the right to vote."
Reports are stating that the 11 people charged included State Senator Quinton Ross, who had sponsored SB 515, one of the multiple versions of the bingo bill. Ross was charged with one count of conspiracy, two counts of federal program bribery, two counts of attempted extortion, and 11 counts of honest services mail and wire fraud. Other senators, and their charges, included:
- Larry Means: 1 count-conspiracy, 2 counts-federal program bribery, 2 counts-attempted extortion, and 11 counts-honest services mail and wire fraud.
- Jim Preuitt: 1 count- conspiracy, 1 count-federal program bribery, 1 count-attempted extortion, 11 counts-honest services mail and wire fraud, and 1 count-making a false statement.
- Harri Anne Smith: 1 count-conspiracy, 2 counts-federal program bribery, 1 count-extortion, 11 counts-honest services mail and wire fraud, and 4 counts-money laundering.
According to Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, "We allege that from February 2009 through August 2010, two owners of gaming and entertainment establishments and one of their employees; three registered lobbyists working on their behalf; four Alabama state senators; and one state-employed legislative analyst all participated in a wide-ranging conspiracy to buy and sell votes on legislation in Alabama that would directly benefit the business interests of two of the defendants, Milton McGregor and Ronald Gilley.”
The proposed amendment faced a long debate in 2010 legislative session, as the bill reached a milestone on March 31, 2010 after the Senate approved the proposal with a vote of 21-13. It then headed to the Alabama House of Representatives, where it had to have gained a similar vote in order to be placed on the ballot for voter approval.
The House Tourism and Travel committee then had the bill placed before them, but decided to delay a decision on the bill, making it unclear if the proposal would be voted on by the Alabama House of Representatives. The delay was at the request of Marcel Black, who was the House sponsor of the bill. According to reports, Black wanted to negotiate some changes to the bill with other Representatives, and stated that he needed a few days to complete those negotiations. The bill was then approved by the committee on April 13, 2010, paving the way for the bill to be voted on by the House.
At that time, Black gave a dim view of the bill being passed to the ballot, stating on the last day of session, "About noon or 12:30 this afternoon you know to the end we were still trying to talk and convince folks and it just became apparent that we weren't going to have the 63 votes to send it to the people." Black later stated, "It would take a resurrection of miraculous proportions to allow this bill to come back up." State lawmakers adjourned on April 21, 2010 without any action on the bill, leaving it off the 2010 ballot.
The 11 suspects were scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama before U.S. Magistrate Judge Terry F. Moorer on October 4, 2010.
- CNN.com, “11 charged in Alabama federal corruption case”, October 4, 2010
- Bloomberg Business Week, "Alabama bingo bill stalls with time running out," April 8, 2010
- The Associated Press, "FBI probes Alabama lawmakers on bingo casino bill," April 3, 2010
- Times Daily, "Bingo bill awaits vote by full House," April 14, 2010
- Bloomberg Business Week, "Alabama bingo bill in doubt as House debate nears," April 19, 2010
- The Birmingham News, "UPDATED: Bingo bill appears dead for the year," April 21, 2010