Friday, June 17, 2011

Alabama gambling corruption trial takes day off

MONTGOMERY — Alabama's gambling corruption trial is taking a day off.Defense attorney Joe Espy says lawyers received notification from the court Thursday night that Friday's proceedings were canceled. He says no reason was given.
Testimony in the trial is scheduled to resume Monday with state Rep. Barry Mask on the witness stand.
The Republican from Wetumpka is one of three legislators who helped the FBI with their investigation of vote buying at the state House.
Mask testified Thursday that he contacted an attorney for the state Department of Public Safety after indicted casino owner Milton McGregor left him a phone message. Mask's involvement in the investigation grew from there.

In Court Thursday:
VictoryLand casino owner Milton McGregor, left, walks with his attorney, Joe Espy, as they arrive at the federal courthouse in Montgomery on Thursday. McGregor is on trial on bribery and conspiracy charges in an alleged vote-buying scheme in the Alabama Senate.
VictoryLand casino owner Milton McGregor, left, walks with his attorney, Joe Espy, as they arrive at the federal courthouse in Montgomery on Thursday. McGregor is on trial on bribery and conspiracy charges in an alleged vote-buying scheme in the Alabama Senate.
Continued fallout over dispar­aging remarks about supporters of gambling, evidence about who was on the payroll of VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor, and a second government witness testi­fying about why he went to the authorities were just part of an eventful ninth day in a federal corruption trial.
McGregor is one of nine peo­ple on trial for their alleged role in an effort by casino owners and their lobbyists to bribe lawmakers to support legislation that would benefit their establishments.
After four days of grueling back-and-forth questioning of the first key government witness, Sen. Scott Beason, state Rep. Bar­ry Mask took the stand Thursday.
Mask, R-Wetumpka, said he went to a lawyer he knew at the Alabama Department of Public Safety after a man he said was connected to McGregor tried to buy all 100 of the $50 tickets to a Mask fundraiser at Johnny G's Pit B-B-Q in Tallassee.
The lawmaker said this was about the same time that raids or attempted raids were being con­ducted by state law enforcement on VictoryLand and Country Crossing.
"I immediately said no. I do not want them buying tickets to my event," said Mask, a Republi­can.
Mask said he had not accepted gambling money and did not want to start.
The man told Deborah Moore, who was collecting the money for Mask and who will be the next witness, he would come anyway.
Two days later, on Feb. 14, 2010, Mask said he received a message from McGregor, who he had not heard from in 18 months to two years.
"I knew he wasn't calling to wish me a happy Valentine's Day," Mask said.
After dismissing the jury Thursday afternoon, attorneys on the two sides argued over what evidence and questions could be asked of Mask.
Joe Espy, lead attorney for McGregor, wants to question Mask for allegedly collecting multiple government-funded checks, working both as a state legislator and the Elmore County Economic Development Authority.
Espy also wants to present a conversation in which Mask, talking to a friend who worked at VictoryLand about raids of the casinos and related issues, refers to the area around Greenetrack as "kind of like a third-world country for sure."
After race-tinged comments made by Beason and other Republicans were played in court a day earlier, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson said he would rule on comments about race outside of the presence of the jury and rule on each of them before they are presented.

Calls for resignation

Three state senators and the chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party called on Beason to resign a day after a transcript of him and other Republicans making derogatory comments toward black gambling supporters was read in federal court.
Beason, like Mask, cooperated with federal investigators and recorded conversations.
"Senator Beason has demonstrated a level of ignorance and racism that has no place in the Alabama Legislature," said Mark Kennedy, chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party. "He should resign immediately and I call on the leadership in his party to encourage him to do so."
Defense attorneys on Wednesday introduced transcripts of conversations Beason recorded that included Beason using the term "aborigine" when referring to supporters of Greenetrack casino in west Alabama.
In another conversation, Republicans, when talking about concerns about electronic gambling possibly being on the ballot in November 2010, mentioned black voters being enticed to the polls with food, $20 vouchers to play bingo and bus rides.
Beason is the chairman of the powerful committee that determines which bills come to the Senate floor for debate.
Senate Minority Leader Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, and Sen. Marc Keahey, D-Grove Hill, also criticized Beason.
"How are we supposed to recruit businesses and jobs to the state when we have a prominent senator making comments like this?" Keahey said. "Scott's comments are not only embarrassing for himself, he's embarrassed the entire state."
Sen. Harri Anne Smith, a defendant who once hired Beason to work on her campaign for Congress, called the comments disgusting and said Wednesday leaving the courthouse that Beason should resign. Smith is an independent from Slocomb.

The payroll

A top aide to Senate Republicans and the chairman of the Christian Coalition of Alabama were among those on the payroll of McGregor, according to comments from a federal prosecutor.
During questioning, Acting U.S. Attorney Louis Franklin asked Beason if he knew that Republican consultant Monica Cooper and Randy Brinson, chairman of the Christian Coalition of Alabama, were paid by McGregor.
Beason said he did not know that Cooper and Brinson were paid by McGregor.
Franklin asked Beason in court if he knew that McGregor had paid a company owned by Brinson $300,000.
Brinson and Cooper did not return messages left on their cellphones by the Montgomery Advertiser on Thursday.
For years, Cooper worked as senior adviser to Senate Minority Leader Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, and continued to work for him when he became Senate majority leader after Republicans took control of the Senate in November. She has also worked on Republican campaigns.
Cooper recently resigned to take another job.
At the time of the comments, prosecutors were following up on questions from defense attorneys who had questioned why Beason recorded people such as Cooper and Brinson, who he considered friends.
Beason acknowledged he recorded conversations beyond those the FBI asked him to.
"If there were discussions about gambling, I tried to turn them on," he said.
Beason said he did not wear a wire every day in the Senate during the 2010 legislative session, but said he wore a body wire most days.

Not on Beason tapes

Beason said fellow Sen. Quinton Ross, a defendant in the case, was not among the more than 120 conversations that he recorded and was not one of the targets the FBI asked him to record.
Ross, D-Montgomery, was accused of pushing McGregor and lobbyists for him and Country Crossing developer Ronnie Gilley for campaign contributions just before the vote on the pro-gambling legislation.
Ross's attorneys have said McGregor has supported him for years because he supported pro-gambling legislation, including a 2009 bill he sponsored. They have also said he supported the legislation because the tax revenue would help education.
"Supporting those who support you is pretty much the norm in politics," Mark Englehart, an attorney for Ross, said as he questioned Beason.
Beason said it is his perception that Ross was a supporter of the Alabama Education Association and of education issues.
Ross, a former principal at Booker T. Washington Magnet High School in Montgomery, is now the director of adult education at H. Councill Trenholm State Technical College.
Gilley and his lobbyist, Jarrod Massey, have already pleaded guilty.

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