Joe Espy, an attorney for gambling developer and Victoryland owner Milton McGregor, argued to the jury in the Alabama gambling corruption trial that the government had no direct evidence of his client’s guilt, and would instead use witnesses to interpret tapes in a manner that favors the prosecution.
There are 12,364 tapes of conversations, text messages and other records in this case, Espy said. “I think they said they may play 50,” Espy said. “I thought they’d at least play 125, to get a sampling of them.”
“The tapes should speak for themselves. Let’s see if the tapes speak for themselves,” Espy said. “If they are unclear, they fail to meet their burden of proof.”
Espy harped hard on the importance of the burden of proof, and said the government would not meet their burden — “It is a heavy and strict burden,” he said — and prove that McGregor, 72, is guilty.
Read more about the prosecution’s opening statement here.
McGregor and five others are charged with conspiring to corruptly pass pro-gambling legislation in 2010. In the prosecution’s opening statement, Asst. U.S. Attorney Emily Rae Woods said McGregor ‘managed that corruption.’
But Espy argued that the government has only circumstantial evidence on his client. “They have no direct evidence. They are going to want you to dig in the weeds to find something,” Espy said.
In his opening, Espy ran quickly through McGregor’s biography and the history of electronic bingo in Alabama. Espy told the jury that McGregor grew up in Hartford, Ala., served two tours in the U.S. Army, went to college at Troy University and Auburn University, and had been married for more than 40 years.
McGregor opened Victoryland with 20 other people in the 1980s, Espy said. He told the jury that electronic bingo has been legal in certain places in Alabama for many years.
“It was legal and it is legal until the illegal raids of Bob Riley, which you’re going to hear about from these witnesses,” Espy said, referring to the gambling crackdowns under former Alabama Gov. Bob Riley. The former governor might be called as a witness by the defense—Riley’s attorneys tried but failed to quash a subpoena.
Espy also attacked the credibility of various government witnesses. He called former Country Crossing CEO Ronnie Gilley a “con man” who is going to try and con the jury. “There’s a major difference in this case between Ronnie Gilley and Milton McGregor,” Espy said. Cooperating witnesses like Ronnie Gilley and his lobbyist, Jarrod Massey, will say anything to get reduced sentences, Espy said.
“Jarrod Massey said under oath that the government ‘rode me hard’ — rode me hard! — to get to everybody!” Espy said, nearly screaming.
Espy also attacked state Sen. Scott Beason, who testified in the first bingo trial and recorded conversations with McGregor and others. Defense attorneys have argued that Beason and other government witnesses had a political motive to try and get McGregor, who has financially supported many Democrats, into trouble.
“Scott Beason — ladies and gentlemen, I believe the evidence will show he will do anything,” Espy said.
Prosecutors have said they are not likely to call Beason to the witness stand in this trial, but conversations Beason covertly recorded for the government could still be central to the government’s case.
Espy also undermined a specific argument made in the prosecution’s opening statement. Prosecutors argued that in 2008, McGregor’s business was suffering and he began paying a Ray Crosby, a legislative analyst, $3,000 a month—payments the prosecution says are bribes. (Crosby, who was expected to be a defendant in this case, died suddenly on Jan. 29.) However, Espy said Victoryland was “humming” in 2008, and McGregor’s business was not coming apart at all.
“It was wide open, 3,000 employees,” Espy said.
Espy went on to say that McGregor made his payments to Crosby by check and reported the payments to the IRS.
“Does that sound illegal to you?” Espy asked the jury.
Bill Baxley, an attorney for lobbyist Tom Coker, followed Espy with opening statements for his client. Further opening statements will continue after lunch.
Read the live blog of the bingo trial here.