Friday, July 1, 2011

Senators asked McGregor for money just before bingo vote

Defendant Bob Geddie, right, and his attorney, Jimmy Judkins, arrive at the federal court­house in Montgomery on Thursday.
Defendant Bob Geddie, right, and his attorney, Jimmy Judkins, arrive at the federal court­house in Montgomery on Thursday. /
Two state senators on trial for their alleged role in a scheme to pass pro-gambling legislation requested financial help for their campaigns from VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor about the time he needed their vote on the gambling proposal.
Sen. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery, asked McGregor for a contribution March 29, 2010, the day before the Senate vote.
Sen. Larry Means, D-Attalla, also told McGregor that he expected a tough fight from Republicans and would need his help.
Both men let McGregor know they supported the legislation, which would have legalized electronic gambling in the state, taxed it and created a state gambling commission.
"People out here want to vote on it," Means told McGregor in the conversation secretly taped by the FBI. "They might vote to kill it."
McGregor's conversations with the men were played in federal court Thursday. The three men are among nine defendants in an alleged scheme to pass pro-gambling legislation.
"If you can give me some more help, that would help ... me out tremendously," Ross said to McGregor the day before the Senate approved the legislation with the exact number of votes required.
McGregor, when he called Ross back the next morning, told the senator he already had contributed significantly to Ross.
"The level I helped you, I can't do that level for everybody. I can't afford it," McGregor said.
He said: "My income was cut off. We're in a heck of a predicament."
VictoryLand and other casinos in the state, including Country Crossing and Greene-
track, were fighting to try to stay open in the wake of raids or attempted raids by a task force created by then-Gov. Bob Riley, who believed the games were played on slot machines, which are illegal in the state.
McGregor told Ross he would push his lobbyists, Tom Coker and Fine Geddie and Associates, to encourage their other clients to help Ross.
"I'll do ... everything I can to get other people to help you some more," the casino owner said.
In a conversation March 31, Coker told McGregor he would give Ross checks from the "medical association" and from the "soft drinks folks."
The Alabama Medical Association contributed to Ross's campaign.Coker said Ross had helped the medical association.
"I think everybody I know of is going to help Quinton," Coker said.
Ross and McGregor's conversations were just before the deadline for candidates to file to enter the 2010 race.
McGregor asked Ross if he had an opponent. Ross said he did not but had heard rumblings about a possible opponent.
Lewis Gillis, an attorney for Ross, said they will present evidence from the Alabama Ethics Commission, from the secretary of state's office, and from a man who said he considered running against Ross, although ultimately no one ran against Ross.
Gillis said there was nothing incriminating in those conversations and that it was obvious from the tone of the conversation that Ross was not pressuring McGregor, but that the men were very cordial.
"He was not trying to squeeze them right before the vote," Gillis said.
Attorneys for McGregor and Ross also have contended that Ross, as an educator, was a longtime supporter of gambling and supported the revenue going to education.
Joe Espy, lead attorney for McGregor, said there was nothing wrong with McGregor's conversations with Ross and Means.
FBI Special Agent John McEachern, who was on the witness stand Thursday, said that McGregor had deposited $1.9 million into political action committees in December 2009.

'This is your life'

In a March 22 conversation, Means told McGregor he knew the situation was dire for him.
"This is your life," Means said to McGregor.
And then he added, "There is nothing I want to do more than help you."
But Means said he expected a retired lieutenant colonel with the Alabama National Guard to run against him.
"So I'm going to need some help from y'all," Means told him. "... The Republicans think they smell blood in the water."
Means lost the November election, which was just a month after he and the other defendants were arrested, to Republican Phil Williams of Rainbow City.

Delivering Mitchell

A deciding vote in favor of the gambling legislation was cast by Sen. Wendell Mitchell, who was very ill at the time and who tried to arrive about the time of the vote, according to a secretly recorded conversation between McGregor and a campaign consultant for Mitchell.
Joe Perkins, the consultant, told McGregor that day that he had offered to drive Mitchell, but that the senator was going to drive himself. Country Crossing developer Ronnie Gilley, through Perkins, had offered substantial campaign help to Mitchell if he could get to the Senate to vote. Gilley already has pleaded guilty in the case."Coker said (Mitchell) just looked bad," McGregor said to Perkins.
Mitchell, a Democrat from Luverne who lost in November, has told the Montgomery Advertiser he never was offered anything improper for his vote.


McGregor asked Paul Hubbert, the head of the Alabama Education Association, not to go after a state senator he needed to vote with him on the gambling legislation, according to a conversation played in court Thursday.
Sen. Jim Preuitt, according to testimony, told a lobbyist for McGregor that he was not opposed to legislation supported by casino owners in the state, but knew that money would benefit Alabama schools and did not want the AEA to use its resources against him in his 2010 election.
McGregor, after talking to Coker, then called Hubbert to ask for his help. McGregor said he had told Coker, "Dr. Hubbert is going to do what he wants to do. ... He'll tell me the truth. He'll tell me where he is."
Hubbert, who has been considered one of the most powerful figures in Alabama politics for years, said he would think about it.
"I'll give it some thought and maybe talk with him sometime next week," Hubbert said.
Preuitt, a Republican from Talladega who switched parties about the time of the vote, had allegedly told Coker he did not expect the AEA to support him but did not want the association putting money into the campaign of his opponents. He wanted AEA to remain neutral.
Joe Espy said Preuitt never asked McGregor for any money and that McGregor never offered any.
"He doesn't offer Jim Preuitt anything," Espy said.
Bob Geddie, another lobbyist for McGregor, said at the time they had 19 senators who said they would vote for the legislation, but they needed 21 to pass the proposed change to the state constitution.
Geddie and McGregor talked about pushing Sens. Bobby Denton, Ben Brooks and Paul Sanford to try to vote for the bill."We got enough people there that's gettable," McGregor said to Geddie.


Prosecutors played other audio secretly recorded by the FBI that indicated the inner workings of the push to pass the bill that would have helped casinos in the state, but ultimately died in the House of Representatives. McGregor, in the calls, talked to fellow casino owners about bills, how to proceed, and which senators supported their proposals, his lobbyists, and with Ray Crosby, an analyst for the Legislature that McGregor was paying as a consultant.
McEachern, at the request of the prosecutor, showed that Crosby did not report his income from McGregor, as required, to the Alabama Ethics Commission until after the investigation became public.
McGregor gave Crosby a 1099 tax form for his consulting work in 2008-2010, according to evidence presented Thursday. McEachern acknowledged, when asked by McGregor attorney Ben Espy, that those 1099 forms would have been submitted to the federal government.
Coker, Crosby and Geddie are defendants in the case.

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