An Alabama state senator had offered to secretly record conversations with some of the most powerful people in Montgomery, chief among them the fed’s top target, Milton McGregor. Using phone taps and body mics, Scott Beason would let FBI agents and federal prosecutors eavesdrop on the business of bingo legislation.
The opportunity was too tempting for federal authorities to resist, but perhaps the government should have.
In the second day of testimony, defense attorneys have argued that Beason is a racist, conniving politician who used a federal government he mistrusts to kneecap their clients and further his own political career, even at the expense of Republican colleagues. That much was to be expected. It’s the job of defense attorneys to attack the credibility of prosecution witnesses and character assassination is common.
But this time, the defense had help — from Scott Beason’s own recordings.
Even before cross examination, one juror was incredulous enough of what she’d heard to ask the judge whether Beason’s recordings constituted entrapment. Also, she wanted to know whether Beason had been coached by the feds for the sting operation.
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson told the jurors that he would instruct them on the law at the end of the trial and that the question of coaching would be addressed in cross examination.
Entrapment occurs when authorities bait defendants into doing something they wouldn’t do otherwise.
The trouble for the prosecution, though, is that the defense could make a pretty strong case out of that. In court on Monday jurors heard several recordings Beason made, but only one was crucial to the case against McGregor. Beason had recorded a sit-down with McGregor, Ronnie Gillie and Jarrod Massey. There are lots of juicy quotable soundbites from that meeting, but its hard to distinguish one that crosses the line, especially when you’re listening to it in context.
A number of times, the defendants tell Beason to vote his conscience and do what’s right for the state.
They admit they have a litmus test for the candidates they support, and that’s whether or not they support a statewide referendum on gambling.
And they say there is no quid-pro-quo.
But it’s Beason who pushes them further.
“What can y’all do to help, and how does that happen?” Beason asks after neither Gilley nor McGregor make him an express offer.
The defendants continue in mushy language, but neither say anything specific.
“You need some new friends,” McGregor said in the meeting. “We all need all the friends we can get, and Ronnie and I have a bad habit of supporting our friends.”
In other recordings, Massey and Gilley are much more direct and self-incriminating, but that one conversation was as close as Beason ever came to ensnaring McGregor.
It was after these recordings that the juror asked the judge about entrapment. Defense attorneys had to be pleased to know at least one juror was making their case for them before they even started cross examination.
Bobby Segall, a defense lawyer for McGregor, turned his cross-examination into a vivisection, using Beason’s own words to take him apart on the stand.
First he painted Beason as an ambitious politician. When Segall asked whether Beason planned to pursue higher office, Beason said he would be interested in whatever position God made available to him.
“I’m not asking about our Heavenly Father,” Segall replied. “I’m asking about you.”
Beason admitted he would like to run for congress or governor. When Beason denied Segall’s argument that he would even steamroll other Republicans to reach a higher office, Segall had Beason read transcripts of his own recordings. On those recordings, Beason disparages and plots against other Republicans, especially Sen. Arthur Orr and Sen. Jabo Waggoner.
Segall was careful to underscore the unseemliness of Beason taping people who trusted him. One woman Beason recorded had been so close to the senator that the Goat Hill gossips said they were having an affair.
Beason struggled under Segall’s assault, frequently talking over Segall or trying to expound on his answers. Repeatedly, Judge Thompson instructed Beason to answer the attorney’s questions and not to argue.
On the stand, Beason denied being a racist, but comments Segall had him read into the record could not have set well with some jurors. In one recorded conversation, Beason argued that the Republicans should support Rep. Yvonne Kennedy to lead the Democratic caucus.
“If the blacks take over the Democrat caucus and she’s speaker, she’s completely disorganized,” Beason said on one recording. “She cannot raise money from the business community.”
And Beason made boneheaded comments about the feds, too. When Beason couldn’t remember making disparaging comments about federal authorities, Segall gave him the transcript for each to read aloud. “You be Beason and I’ll be the other folks, OK?” Segall asked.
In the recordings, Beason called the feds evil, and said some of them just wanted to put people people they don’t like in jail.
Beason tried to defend himself by saying he was “playing a role” for the investigation, pretending to be someone he wasn’t. Segall pounced.
“You’re playing a role aren’t you?” Segall asekd. “You’re playing a role for the men and women of the jury.”
Cross examination continues Wednesday morning.
Kyle Whitmire wrote this story from Birmingham. Madison Underwood reported from Montgomery.