Gambling developer Milton McGregor, a defendant in the Alabama gambling corruption trial, used his outsize funds and influence to corruptly pass pro-gambling legislation, a federal prosecutor argued in court today. Opening statements in the trial of six defendants, including McGregor, three lawmakers, a lobbyist and a spokesperson for a bingo casino, began just after 9 a.m.
“Milton McGregor, the man seated in the back, he managed that corruption,” federal prosecutor Emily Rae Woods told the jury. Woods used visual aids, displayed on a screen in the courtroom, to illustrate the complex case and the ties between the defendants.
Woods says McGregor was a man who needed pro-gambling legislation to pass because he stood to lose enormous amounts to when bans on gambling were enforced against his machines. McGregor went from making $40 million in profits from 6,000 electronic bingo machines in his Victoryland casino one year to losing $4 million the next, Woods said. He also invested millions in Country Crossing gambling development in Houston county run by Ronnie Gilley. Gilley and his lobbyists, Jarrod Massey and Jennifer Pouncy, pleaded guilty to charges of corruption and are expected to testify against the defendants in this trial.
“In his own words, his ass was on the line,” Woods said.
McGregor paid a legislative analyst and former defendant named Ray Crosby $3,000 a month, for a total of more than $70,000, to answer his phone calls, Woods said.
According to Woods, McGregor, Gilley and Country Crossing spokesperson Jay Walker bribed former Sen. Jim Preuitt (R-Talladega), who operated a car dealership in Talledega. “You’re going hear Ronnie Gilley and Jay Walker talk about how they would buy a whole fleet of trucks if that’s what it took,” to get his vote on pro-gambling legislation, Woods said. She also argued that McGregor chose his lobbyist, Tom Coker, to get Preuitt in line. McGregor told Coker — an old friend of Preuitt’s — to zero in on Preuitt “like a laser,” Woods said.
Woods argued that when Preuitt met with investigators after the corruption investigation was made public in April 2010, he lied when he said he’d never been offered anything for his vote.
“Sen. Preuitt didn’t know what the FBI knew, but he knew that what he’d done was a crime,” Woods said.
Coker, Walker and Preuitt are also defendants in the case. Woods also outlined arguments against defendants Sen. Harri Anne Smith (I-Slocomb) and former Sen. Larry Means (R-Attalla).
Means, unlike Preuitt, was not subtle when discussing bribes, Wood said. “Sen. Means was about as subtle as a freight train,” she said. The prosecution argued that he asked for $100,000 in campaign cash. “Larry Means was a sellout, the one that shook them down,” Woods said.
Woods said Sen. Smith, who, in 2008 opposed gambling but then became an advocate for it, was “knee-deep” in the conspiracy. Former Sen. Steve French will testify that Smith tried to recruit him to support gambling, Woods said.
More later, including a summary of opening arguments from McGregor attorney Joe Espy.
To view a live blog of opening statements, click here.