Sunday, June 19, 2011

Start of gambling corruption trial features plenty of fireworks

State Sen. Harri Anne Smith speaks to the media after opening statements of the federal gambling trial in Montgomery on June 10.
State Sen. Harri Anne Smith speaks to the media after opening statements of the federal gambling trial in Montgomery on June 10.
The first week of testimony in the high-profile trial of Victory­Land casino owner Milton McGre­gor, two sitting state senators, and six other defendants included se­cretly taped conversations, mil­lions in bribes offered to a sena­tor, testimony by two Republican state legislators, and racially tinged comments that one of them made on the tapes.
The nine defendants are on trial for their roles in an alleged scheme to buy and sell support for pro-gambling legislation.
The following is a summary of the first week of the trial:
Sen. Scott Beason, who went to the FBI and secretly re corded conversa­ tions, testified about going to federal authori­ties after he felt he was being blackmailed for not supporting pro-gambling legislation. He said proponents of the bill threatened to use his campaign work for de­fendant Harri Anne Smith in 2008 and his vote in favor of a 62 per cent pay raise against him in his district if he didn't support it.
Beason said he did nothing wrong, but worried what might happen if similar pressure was placed on a legislator who had done something wrong.
Beason said he talked with Smith, a fellow state senator, and after a dinner with supporters of Country Crossing he was told they could help him with as much as $500,000 for a future run for lieutenant governor if he supported their effort. Smith said the conversation never happened.
Bobby Segall, attorney for McGregor, pointed out that Beason did not go to the FBI after the $500,000 was mentioned, but only weeks later when he felt he was being blackmailed politically.
A prosecutor played several conversations Beason taped including those with Country Crossing developer Ronnie Gilley and his lobbyist Jarrod Massey.
In a recording at Zoe's Kitchen in Homewood, Massey offers Beason $1 million a year to use for campaigns, which could make him more of a player in state politics, or that he could use personally. Massey said Beason could be paid through a "store front" public relations operation where little was expected of him
Segall and other defense attorneys portrayed Beason as a political opportunist who was even willing to plow over fellow Republican senators to gain more power. In taped conversations read in court, Beason or his friends talked about trying to push out fellow Republican Sens. Jabo Waggoner of Vestavia Hills, Steve French of Mountain Brook and Arthur Orr of Decatur.Beason acknowledged taping not just those the FBI instructed him to, but anyone he thought might talk about gambling. Segall accused him of even recording conversations with friends, including Republican political consultant Monica Cooper. He also recorded Randy Brinson of the Christian Coalition of Alabama.
But U.S. Attorney Louis Franklin asked Beason if he knew McGregor was paying Cooper and Brinson. Cooper at the time was the top aide to Senate Republicans. Franklin asked Beason if he knew a company Brinson owned received $300,000 from McGregor.
Franklin did not reveal any evidence or any more information about those payments to either Cooper or Brinson, who did not return phone calls from the Montgomery Advertiser.
Beason recorded a meeting of the Senate Republican Caucus, he said, because representatives of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians attended it. He said at that time he did not know who was on the side of gambling interests.
Beason said he was playing a role at the time. He told Massey, Gilley and McGregor he was taking a political risk to vote in favor of gambling in his conservative district and asked what they could do for him.
A juror sent a letter to U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson asking if what Beason did was entrapment. Thompson told jurors to keep an open mind and he would instruct them on the law before they began deliberations.
Ray Crosby, an analyst for the Legislature who was also being paid as a consultant for McGregor, drafted anti-gambling legislation during the time of the alleged conspiracy. Prosecutors have accused Crosby, one of the nine defendants, of drafting legislation that favored McGregor. Beason said he requested a bill in January 2010 that came from Crosby, but that it was worded in a way that did not stop all gambling in the state. He acknowledged that Crosby immediately corrected the error, which he said could have been the product of miscommunication, and had previously drafted legislation for him that would have hurt VictoryLand and other operations.
ranscripts of conversations Beason recorded contained racist comments by Beason and other Republicans. Beason referred to blacks who supported the Greenetrack casino in west Alabama as "aborigines." Fellow Republicans, in another meeting, talked about gambling interest being able to buy black support with bus rides, buffets, and $20 certificates to play bingo.Beason said state Sen. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery, was not on any of the more than 120 conversations he recorded for the FBI.
Beason told the Advertiser on Thursday that he would not talk to the media about his testimony until after the trial was over.
State Rep. Barry Mask, a Wetumpka Republican who also recorded conversations and cooperated with authorities. He told the court he went to the Alabama Department of Public Safety after someone he said was close to McGregor tried to call and buy all 100 of the $50 tickets to a fundraiser he was having.
Mask told the woman handling tickets not to do it and that he did not want gambling money. The man said he would come anyway, which Mask said concerned him because it was about the time of the state raids on gambling facilities. McGregor, who Mask said he had not talked to in at least 18 months, then called and left a message for the legislator two days later. The combination of those events prompted Mask to call an attorney he knew with DPS.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys argued over what Mask could be questioned about during cross-examination. Potential questions included: a comment he made comparing Greene County to a third-world country; his possible connections to the Poarch Band of Creek Indians; a squabble with Rep. Paul Beckman of Prattville over taxes in Elmore County; and about him receiving two government-funded checks, one as a legislator and another for his job at the Elmore County Economic Development Authority.
Mask will continue his testimony Monday.

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