by Kyle Whitmire and Madison Underwood
All business stopped in the Alabama Statehouse Wednesday as a jury blocks away returned a verdict in the public corruption trial of Milton McGregor and five others.
After six days of deliberation and a five-week trial, the jury acquitted all defendants.
“Today was a clear and convincing vindication of Milton McGregor,” defense lawyer Joe Espy said.
Milton McGregor and five codefendants were charged with conspiring to corruptly pass pro-gambling legislation through the Alabama legislature in 2010. Prosecutors for the federal government said McGregor managed that corruption with the help of his lobbyist, Tom Coker, who was also a defendant, and gambling developer and former Country Crossing CEO Ronnie Gilley, who pleaded guilty to bribery charges and testified against the defendants.
The government said defendants Sen. Harri Anne Smith and then-Sens. Jim Preuitt and Larry Means took bribes from Gilley or his former lobbyists (who were also cooperating witnesses). The government also alleged that Jay Walker, another defendant and a former spokesperson for Country Crossing, helped bribe Preuitt.
This was the second trial for these defendants. The first trial ended in a mistrial with not-guilty votes on most counts and hung jury on the remaining counts. Two defendants, Montgomery lobbyist Bob Geddie and state Sen. Quinton Ross (D-Montgomery), were acquitted in the first trial, which began last June and ended in early August.
McGregor’s lead defense lawyer, Espy, said that the government had spent at least $35 million investigating and prosecuting the case, and the defense was costly, too.
“A lot of money, a lot of money — all these lawyers don’t come cheap,” Espy said.
Prosecutors in the case aligned themselves with crooks, racists and political manipulators, Espy said, while bragging that the defense team had already run five members of the prosecution team out of town after the first trial.
“We are seriously looking at appropriate legal action against people who wrongfully, wrongfully participated in this process,” Espy said.
McGregor said he would speak more at a later time but read from a prepared statement.
“This is truly a day to celebrate, and ladies and gentlemen, the celebration begins now,” McGregor said after the verdict.
Defendant Jay Walker, a former spokesperson for the Country Crossings casino in Dothan, called Montgomery a cruel and unusual place to do political business, and that he would take his time getting back to work.
Meanwhile, Sen. Harri Anne Smith thanked her supporters and said she would return to the Senate floor on Thursday morning. Smith had been forced out of the Republican Party and kept off the ballot during the bingo corruption investigation. On Wednesday, she said she would remain an independent.
Smith was able to keep her office through one election while under indictment, but Sen. Larry Means wasn’t so lucky. On Wednesday, he said his support was strong during his failed reelection attempt, but he has not decided whether he would continue to have a career in politics.