Gambling arrests stun Alabama

Baptist Press
|
Posted: Oct 08, 2010 6:15 PM
Gambling arrests stun Alabama
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)--A shock wave spread across Alabama Oct. 4 when lawmakers, gambling bosses, lobbyists and others were arrested in a FBI "bingo" probe and charged with a vote-buying scheme.

Indictments were handed down against 11 individuals who will be arraigned in Montgomery on Oct. 15. Most, if not all, are expected to plead not guilty.

Some are calling the timing an attempt to influence the upcoming general election and/or a final power play by Gov. Bob Riley, who took a heavy hand to electronic "bingo" this year. Riley's Task Force on Illegal Gambling succeeded in shutting down the state's three largest slot machine-style facilities, which have been the center of a vicious battle over what type of gambling truly is legal in Alabama.

The FBI "bingo" investigation became public after Senate Bill 380, sponsored by Sen. Roger Bedford, D.-Russellville, passed the Senate when a few senators switched their votes. Just as the bill seemed to be gaining steam to provide a statewide vote to expand gambling, the investigation was announced. Several gambling proponents accused Republicans of undermining the legislation with the FBI investigation because it seemingly killed the bill. The House sponsor of the bill, Rep. Marcel Black, D.-Tuscumbia, pulled his bill before a vote could be taken in the House.

And accusations of a Republican conspiracy have only gotten louder and harsher with the indictments coming out less than a month before the general election Nov. 2.

But authorities deny these charges.

"In a case like this ... we just had to go with where the facts and law were, and we had to make the decision at the appropriate time," said Lanny A. Breuer, assistant U.S. attorney general. "And that's 100 percent what dictated the timing of this case."

And while media outlets nationwide covered the probe and newspapers and TV stations statewide provided daily coverage for days after the arrests, most Alabama Baptists were not shocked with the news.

The Alabama Baptist newspaper has covered the gambling issue in the state for more than a decade, and the Alabama Citizens Action Program (ALCAP) has worked for several decades urging legislators to vote against expanding gambling.

"We've suspected the corruption existed all along and have been working to defeat attempts to expand gambling for that reason," said Joe Godfrey, executive director of ALCAP. "I spend countless hours walking the halls of the statehouse reminding legislators of the evil that comes with this type of business. My predecessor Dan Ireland has warned senators and representatives for more than 30 years about the dangers of getting caught in the gambling web."

But Godfrey and Ireland work against scores of high-paid pro-gambling lobbyists, so their job is not easy. "Those lobbyists make it hard for legislators to resist their offers," Godfrey said. "But we try to stay consistent with our message."

As far as what lies ahead, Godfrey said he could not predict. "I still believe in the justice system and being innocent until proven guilty as far as the individuals who are involved, but what this does prove is that gambling breeds corruption," he said.

"These recent indictments and arrests should cause everyone to ask, 'Do we really want this kind of corrupting influence in our state?'

"The more gambling we allow in Alabama, the greater the potential for corruption."

Four legislators were among those indicted:

-- Harri Anne H. Smith, 48, of Slocomb -- charged with one count of conspiracy, two counts of federal program bribery, one count of extortion, 11 counts of honest services mail and wire fraud and four counts of money laundering.

-- James E. Preuitt, 75, of Talladega — charged with one count of conspiracy, one count of federal program bribery, one count of attempted extortion, 11 counts of honest services mail and wire fraud and one count of making a false statement.

-- Quinton T. Ross Jr., 41, of Montgomery -- charged with one count of conspiracy, two counts of federal program bribery, two counts of attempted extortion and 11 counts of honest services mail and wire fraud.

-- Larry P. Means, 63, of Attalla -- charged with one count of conspiracy, two counts of federal program bribery, two counts of attempted extortion and 11 counts of honest services mail and wire fraud.

Also indicted were:

-- Milton E. McGregor, 71, of Montgomery -- charged with one count of conspiracy, six counts of federal program bribery and 11 counts of honest services mail and wire fraud.

-- Ronald E. Gilley, 45, of Enterprise — charged with one count of conspiracy, six counts of federal program bribery, 11 counts of honest services mail and wire fraud and four counts of money laundering.

-- Jarrod D. Massey, 39, of Montgomery -- charged with one count of conspiracy, five counts of federal program bribery and 11 counts of honest services mail and wire fraud.

-- Thomas E. Coker, 70, of Lowndesboro -- charged with one count of conspiracy, two counts of federal program bribery and 11 counts of honest services mail and wire fraud.

-- Robert B. Geddie Jr., 60, of Montgomery -- charged with one count of conspiracy, one count of federal program bribery, 11 counts of honest services mail and wire fraud and one count of obstruction of justice.

-- Jarrell W. Walker Jr., 36, of Lanett -- charged with one count of conspiracy, one count of federal program bribery and 11 counts of honest services mail and wire fraud.

-- Joseph R. Crosby, 61, of Montgomery — charged with one count of conspiracy, one count of federal program bribery and 11 counts of honest services mail and wire fraud.

Jennifer Davis Rash is managing editor of The Alabama Baptist (www.thealabamabaptist.org).

Copyright (c) 2010 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net