Ala. casino developer, 2 others get prison terms

AP News
Posted: Jul 16, 2012 9:32 PM
Ala. casino developer, 2 others get prison terms

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A federal judge on Monday sentenced a bingo developer, his one-time lobbyist and a former state legislator to prison terms for their roles in a scheme to buy votes on gambling legislation in the Alabama statehouse.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson sentenced bingo developer Ronnie Gilley to nearly seven years in prison, lobbyist Jarrod Massey to more than five years in prison and former state Rep. Terry Spicer of Elba to almost five years in prison.

Gilley and Massey pleaded guilty to conspiracy and bribery charges involving offering millions to legislators to support pro-gambling legislation. Spicer admitted taking bribes from Gilley and Massey while a legislator. Nine other people went to trial and were acquitted by jurors.

The three pleaded with Thompson at a hearing Monday for leniency, saying their crimes didn't overshadow the good they had done for their communities.

Gilley almost must forfeit $200,000 to the government. Massey got credit for nearly nine months he's already served.

More charges are possible: Legal arguments at the sentencing revealed that both Gilley and Massey have testified to a state grand jury empaneled by the Alabama attorney general's office to review allegations of corruption.

Gilley's wife Deidra broke into tears when the judge announced the sentence; Massey's two teenage sons appeared stunned and red-faced. His teary-eyed wife by his side outside the courthouse, Gilley said he's a better person because the guilty plea and looming incarceration forced him to reorder his life.

"As hard as it is to say, this is probably the best thing that's ever happened to me," he said.

Thompson allowed all three men to remain free on bond until they report to prison on Aug. 27.

One more person who pleaded guilty awaits sentencing.

Spicer received a sentence at the lower end of a range computed by Thompson using federal guidelines; Gilley and Massey received terms that were shorter than the guidelines but longer than what the defense sought.

During the hearing, Gilley told the judge a decision to send him to prison would endanger hundreds of jobs and some $17 million that investors had poured into his BamaJam Farms, a 1,600-acre development near Enterprise.

"It would be much more than a personal loss if I am removed from BamaJam Farms," he said.

Massey became tearful on the stand and apologized for his actions. He said he was committed to letting this be a lesson for others.

"The toughest thing is knowing the ordeal I developed for my family, financially and otherwise," he said. "I can't escape it."

The judge also ordered Massey to pay a $20,000 fine, but the defense said he can't afford it.

The three men and a former lobbyist, Jennifer Pouncy, pleaded guilty in a wide-ranging federal corruption investigation that ensnared the owner of the state's largest casino, Milton McGregor; four current and former state senators; two of the state's most prominent lobbyists; and two others.

Gilley was a key witness for the government at their trials, but none of them was convicted. The U.S. Justice Department's only success was the four guilty pleas. Pouncy is scheduled for sentencing Aug. 29.

Spicer depicted himself, Gilley and Massey as being out to help the part of southeast Alabama where they grew up and lived.

"The three of us were able to do some great things for our community," Spicer told a packed courtroom. "Those things continue today."

But Spicer said he also said he damaged the reputation of the Legislature, and he said the case has torn apart friendships and the community. Describing himself and Massey as lifelong friends, Spicer said Massey gave him money through the years, and he helped Massey establish his lobbying business.

Spicer said that when he entered his guilty plea, he knew he couldn't afford a proper defense.

"You're not saying you're not guilty, are you?" Thompson interjected.

"No sir, I am guilty," answered Spicer, who also must pay a $40,000 fine.