Ala. Lawmakers, Lobbyists Indicted In Corruption Probe

fromWBHM

In Alabama on Monday, federal agents fanned out across the state and arrested state lawmakers, lobbyists and one of Alabama's most powerful business leaders. It's part of a months-long bribery and corruption investigation centered around the expansion of gambling.

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In Alabama today, federal authorities indicted 11 people in an alleged vote-buying scheme. At the center of the case, a failed effort to legalize electronic bingo in the state. Defendants include four state senators and Alabama's top two casino owners.

From member station WBHM, Andrew Yeager reports.

ANDREW YEAGER: Alabamians knew a federal grand jury was looking into possible gambling influence in the state legislature. The Justice Department told state lawmakers that back in April, just as the legislature was considering a bill to legalize electronic bingo in Alabama. Justice Department officials now offer an alleged conspiracy to buy and sell votes.

Today in Washington, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lanny Breuer called the scope of the plot astonishing.

Mr. LANNY BREUER (Assistant Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice): The defendants' corrupt conduct infiltrated every layer of the legislative process in the state of Alabama.

YEAGER: Government officials say Alabama's top two casino owners used lobbyists to bribe state lawmakers into supporting legislation to legalize electronic bingo. They allegedly offered hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, and even campaign appearances by country music stars.

Meanwhile, four state senators are charged with accepting and, in some cases, soliciting funds in exchange for votes.

One of the arrested state senators called the indictments a witch hunt made in collaboration with Alabama's Republican Governor Bob Riley. The governor has been waging his own legal battle against electronic bingo in the state. Spokesman Jeff Emerson rejected the idea a Republican governor would be in cahoots with a Democratic Justice Department.

Mr. JEFF EMERSON (Communications Director for Governor Bob Riley): For months now, Governor Riley has been warning Alabamians that organized gambling is a threat to our state because it has a corrupting influence. And that's exactly why Governor Riley has fought so hard against the gambling interest in Alabama.

YEAGER: A lawyer for Alabama's largest casino owner, Milton McGregor, says McGregor is absolutely innocent and looks forward to proving it.

When the investigation came to light this past spring, that raised eyebrows as the bill to legalize electronic bingo was still making its way through the legislature. Today's arrests now come with elections less than a month away. But former federal Judge John Carroll doubts a political motive. And he says prosecutors have a tough road ahead.

Mr. JOHN CARROLL (Dean, Cumberland School of Law): This will be an inside look at politics and the question will be, were these bribes or were they simply contributions and favors? You know, it will depend on the evidence thats presented in the courtroom.

YEAGER: Justice Department officials wouldn't comment on the possibility of future arrests. Instead, they describe Alabama's corruption investigation as ongoing

For NPR News, I'm Andrew Yeager in Birmingham.

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