In Alabama, memories still linger of the federal corruption trial that began in June 2011 in federal Judge Myron Thompson’s courtroom, involving Milton McGregor, owner of VictoryLand casino, another casino owner, two sitting state senators, two former state senators and two powerful lobbyists. At times more two dozen attorneys had seats around the defense tables. All of the defendants faced long jail terms over allegations they plotted to bribe legislators with cash and promises of campaign contributions in exchange for their vote to legalize electronic bingo.
Recently thousands of pages of previously sealed motions, orders and transcripts from closed hearings and in-chambers conferences regarding the case were released. Among other things they revealed that FBI agent Keith Baker, the federal government’s lead investigator on the case, had been involved in an extramarital affair with a court reporter; and that more than 8,000 text messages sent and received by Baker during a key period of the investigation mysteriously went missing from both his phone and the backup computer servers at FBI headquarters in Virginia.
Thompson had to determine if Baker’s relationship with the court reporter had damaged the credibility of grand jury transcripts or the grand jury process. He decided that Baker’s actions did not impact the case enough to bring about a dismissal, and that the introduction of the affair would be so prejudicial that it would inappropriately bias the jury.
Regarding Baker’s missing messages, Thompson allowed an FBI IT expert to be questioned by both sides during a closed hearing. The expert said FBI-issued cell phones are backed up by a server, so any text message Baker sent or received on his FBI Blackberry would have stored at agency headquarters, but those also were missing. The expert noted no changes had been made to the system during the time in question.
However, the FBI was able to retrieve time stamps on the missing messages, which revealed some of them went to and from former state Senator Scott Beason, who was a government witness in the case. Beason recorded conversations he’d had with numerous legislators and some of the defendants, during which he made racially insensitive remarks, such as calling Greene County voters “aborigines.”
In October 2011, 11 people were indicted, including former lobbyist Jarrod Massey who recently apologized on a website he created. He had pleaded guilty and testified against casino operator Ronnie Gilley of Dothan, who hired Massey to lobby and then bribe legislators, and who also pleaded guilty. The other eight people charged, including McGregor, all were found not guilty by a federal court jury in Montgomery in 2011.
Now McGregor is back in the news, trying to get back the cash and electronic gambling machines taken from VictoryLand by state Attorney General Luther Strange’s office in a 2012 raid. Last month, Montgomery Country Circuit Court Judge William Shashy tossed a request from the AG’s office to keep cash and destroy the machines. In his ruling, Shashy said VictoryLand had not been afforded equal protections under the law because it had been closed since the raid while other casinos in the state were allowed to operate. The AG’s office immediately filed an appeal with the Alabama Supreme Court . A new hearing in the case is set for August 4.
But meanwhile, the legislature is considering state Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh’s constitutional amendment allowing a state lottery and casino-style gambling at the Birmingham Race Course, GreeneTrack, Mobile Greyhound Park—and VictoryLand.
Since 2009, Alabama taxpayers have spent $9,031.773 on investigations and prosecutions of illegal gambling. Former Governor Bob Riley’s task force on illegal gambling cost $3,948,850.69. And storage fees for electronic bingo machines confiscated from VictoryLand, GreeneTrack and Country Crossing amount to $326,875 since October 2013, including $17,875 per month paid since May 2014.