MONTGOMERY AL -- Federal law enforcement agents arrested 11 people in Alabama on Oct. 4 in connection with a vote-buying scheme. The plot was allegedly designed to pass legislation last spring that would permit the operation of controversial gambling-style machines.
Simultaneously, U.S. Justice Department officials in Washington announced the 11 would be charged with conspiracy and bribery. Among those arrested were four state senators and three lobbyists, along with VictoryLand's Milton McGregor and County Crossing's Ronald Gilley, two electronic bingo machine operators.
The indicted lawmakers are state Sens. James Preuitt (R-Talladega), Larry Means (D-Attalla), Quinton Ross Jr. (D-Montgomery) and Harri Anne Smith (I-Slocomb).
FBI agents said the federal investigation, which began in 2009, resulted in wiretap recordings that show one senator demanding $100,000 for a pro-bingo vote, while another was promised up to $2 million in campaign contributions. Other lawmakers were reportedly promised ongoing payoffs of $1 million a year.
Conviction on the conspiracy charges carry possible prison terms of up to five years; bribery charges up to 10 years and honest services fraud up to 20 years.
A U.S. magistrate judge released the defendants on bail; pleas may be entered at the next hearing, set for Oct. 15. Attorneys for some defendants said their clients were innocent. But a 12th defendant, a lobbyist’s staffer, has already pled guilty to offering a $2 million bribe.
A spokesman for Gov. Bob Riley, a persistent opponent of electronic bingo, said the arrests and indictments confirmed the Alabama governor's longstanding charges that the bingo industry and its legislative agenda were both utterly corrupt.
Riley’s position is that electronic bingo games are illegal slot machines. The state Supreme Court’s rulings on the issue have been ambiguous and even contradictory. The outgoing state Attorney General is on record stating his opinion that electronic bingos are legal.
Nevertheless, Riley has spent the last two years on an aggressive anti-bingo enforcement campaign, shutting down dozens of bingo operations statewide.
Riley’s term ends in January. Both the Democratic and Republican candidates for governor say they will permit bingo operations pending a public referendum on the issue.