Posted by Edmond Geary | Posted in Bribery, Conspiracy charges | Posted on 17-11-2011
A federal jury brought back verdicts in Alabama recently on an indictment charging 39 counts against 9 defendants with bribery. After a two-year investigation by the F.B.I, two months of jury trial with evidence that included thousands of tape-recorded telephone conversations, and finally by a week of jury deliberations, the prosecution score was zero.
No one was convicted: All acquittals and mistrials. The main target, Milton McGregor, was found not guilty on three counts and got a hung jury on 14 counts including one count of conspiracy. (There is always a conspiracy count in federal court, at least when there has been an extensive investigation.) McGregor is the multimillionaire owner of one of the largest casino complexes (including a greyhound racetrack) in the country name VictoryLand. He was tried with two serving state senators, four former state senators, and four other people.
Two defendants, State Senator Quinton Ross and VictoryLand lobbyist Bob Geddie, were completely cleared by the jury’s verdict. The jury could not reach a verdict on 33 other counts, so the government could seek a new trial for the seven remaining defendants, who include Senator Harri Anne Smith, former Senators Larry Means and Jim Preuitt, and McGregor.
All of this arose from some new gambling machines that were proposed for use in the casinos, called electronic bingo machines. They looked like slot machines and were common for some time around the state. However, the Governor Bob Riley declared them illegal, and several judges agreed with him, so legalizing them was proposed in the Alabama legislature. That is where the F.B.I. investigation took place.
As the casino-sponsored bill to legalize the machines was debated in the legislature, rumors floated of a federal investigation of money offered or paid for votes in favor of the new machines. The F.B.I. made surprise visits to some of the legislators. Indeed, when the 65-page indictment was unsealed last year, two of those originally charged pled guilty and testified at trial for the government as “cooperating witnesses.” They and the recorded telephone conversations were the sum and substance of the government’s case. Much discussion of money, contributions, promises, and deals were offered into evidence, but the criminal defense lawyers argued none of that constituted bribery. The cooperating witnesses gave their opinions that bribery was implied or understood, but all of it fell short. The jury obviously looked past all the theater of the government’s display, looked into all the mountains of evidence, and found it unpersuasive when held to the burden that is required in American courts: beyond a reasonable doubt.
The government’s case fell short of connecting McGregor to any discussion of money or votes. And the government’s case was not helped by tape-recordings from one of its own witnesses, Senator Scott Beason. One of the informant legislators, he referred on one of his tapes referring to customers of a gambling hall in a predominantly black counties as “aborigines.” Beason also recorded himself talking to Republican colleagues about how passage of the bill could hurt Republicans because the bill wouldn’t take effect unless approved by voters in the November election. He argued having the issue on the ballot would bring out more black voters, who traditionally favor Democratic candidates.
On a retrial, the government is sure to omit those tapes from the jury. But jurors in that case will also know that legislators are constantly raising money, swapping favors, and trading deals on legislation on a daily basis, and the jury will still need evidence of bribery.