Federal indictment: Ala. casino heads, state senators, lobbyists indicted in vote buying probe

By Phillip Rawls, AP
Monday, October 4, 2010

Ala. casino heads, senators, lobbyists indicted

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The owner of Alabama’s largest casino, four state senators and several top lobbyists have been indicted on federal charges accusing them of vote buying in an effort to get a bill passed that would have legalized electronic bingo in the state.

The indictment, which has 11 defendants, was released Monday as FBI agents made arrests at several locations across Alabama.

It accuses the casino owners and statehouse figures of conspiring to make payments and campaign donations to affect “pro-gambling legislation.”

VictoryLand casino owner Milton McGregor was among those indicted. His casino, now shut down, has more than 6,000 electronic bingo machines. Also indicted was Country Crossing casino developer Ronnie Gilley of Dothan and state Sens. Harri Anne Smith of Slocomb, James Prueitt of Talladega, Larry Means of Gadsden and Quinton Ross Jr. of Montgomery.

The indictment was dated Friday but not made public until arrests were made Monday. The Justice Department, in a statement, said the accused acted “in a conspiracy to offer and bribe legislators for their votes and influence on proposed legislation.”

Also indicted were lobbyists Tom Coker and Bob Geddie, who represent VictoryLand; lobbyist Jarrod Massey and public relations executive Jay Walker, who represent Country Crossing; and Ray Crosby, an attorney for the Legislature who helped write gambling legislation.

The Justice Department said the indictment “alleges that Sen. Means, who had abstained from an earlier vote on the pro-gambling legislation in 2010, solicited bribes from McGregor, Gilley, Massey and others, and, in one specific instance, sought $100,000 in return for voting in favor of the legislation.”

The indictments resulted from a federal grand jury investigation in Montgomery.

The probe was announced last spring prior to the final votes on the bill, which died when sponsors could not line up the necessary votes for passage. Backers of the bill, mostly Democrats, accused Republican Gov. Bob Riley’s administration of derailing the measure with the announcement of the probe. While Riley’s state public safety director was involved with the announcement, federal authorities said the Justice Department was handling the investigation.

Of the four state senators indicted, Means and Ross are Democrats, Prueitt is a Republican and Smith is an independent who was a Republican when the bill was in the Legislature.

Electronic bingo casinos operated in Alabama for several years until the governor labeled the machines illegal slots and organized a task force to close them down. The unsuccessful legislation was designed to thwart Riley’s task force and keep the electronic bingo machines operating.

McGregor’s casino, 15 miles east of Montgomery, was the state’s largest with more than 6,000 machines, but it has been closed since Aug. 9 to prevent a raid by the task force. The state-operated task force succeeded in closing all privately operated electronic bingo casinos during the federal probe.

Only three casinos operated by the Poarch Creek Indians remain in operation. They are not under state supervision.

Associated Press Writer Pete Yost in Washington contributed to this report.

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