Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Corruption Trial Tape: Casino Owners Offer Support to Wired Senator

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Two casino owners told a state senator in a secretly recorded meeting that they needed his vote on pro-gambling legislation and would furnish extensive support if he joined their side.

"We all know we are talking about something for something," state Sen. Scott Beason testified Monday in the bribery trial of casino owner Milton McGregor and eight others.

Beason, a Gardendale Republican, was the first witness in the trial. He went to the FBI in 2009 with concerns that some supporters of the legislation were threatening him with political retaliation if he didn't join their side. He ended up wearing recording devices in telephone conversations and meetings with gambling supporters and said he sometimes steered the conversations toward financial support when supporters were being coy.
Some of the recordings were played in court Monday and more are scheduled for Tuesday.

One tape recording was made on Feb. 18, 2010, in Montgomery when Beason met with McGregor, owner of the closed VictoryLand casino in Shorter, and two people who have pleaded guilty to offering bribes to legislators: Ronnie Gilley, developer of closed Country Crossing casino in Dothan, and his lobbyist, Jarrod Massey.

The casino owners were short of the 21 votes they need in the Senate to pass a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow their electronic bingo casinos to keep operating.

They wanted Beason to switch from an opponent to a supporter and didn't realize he was wearing a wire.

"By God, we need your help," McGregor tells him.

Beason is the first to bring up money. He says he wants to hold a powerful position in the Republican Party, but he lacks the financial means to do it.

"What can you do to help and how does that happen?" he asks the three men.

He mentions that another co-defendant, Republican Sen. Harri Anne Smith of Slocomb, had told him about a year earlier that he could expect $500,000 in campaign support from the gambling industry if he came on board.

"We damn sure support who supports us and we support in a significant way," McGregor replied.

Gilley says the level of support would be unconditional.

Beason mentions that he does public relations work in addition to his Senate job.

Gilley says he uses a top-notch public relations firm to promote Country Crossing and the firm could "use someone on the ground here."

McGregor says a public relations job would be the "perfect place" for Beason.

Prosecutors contend the casino owners were offering bribes.

McGregor's lawyers said people normally support only those politicians who share their views and McGregor did nothing improper.

Beason testified that he and Smith, a Slocomb independent, are good friends and she paid him $10,000 for working as an adviser in her unsuccessful race for Congress in 2008.

He said they attended a dinner with Gilley at a Montgomery restaurant in 2009 when Country Crossing was still in the planning stages.

Smith was already a supporter of the project, and the dinner was designed to see if Beason might support it, even though he had always opposed gambling.

After they left the dinner and were walking across the parking lot, Beason testified Smith told him that about $500,000 in campaign contributions would be available from Gilley and the gambling industry if he supported the project.

"I said, `We don't need to be talking about that,"' he told the jury.

The Republican senator said he was concerned because "we were talking about getting campaign contributions in return for an official act."

That conversation with Smith was not recorded.

Defense attorneys expect to question Beason on Tuesday.

Prosecutors said their second witness will be Republican Rep. Barry Mask of Wetumpka, who also wore a recording device for the FBI.

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