Prosecution ends in Alabama gambling trial

By Phillip Rawls

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Feb. 24 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

Former State Sen. Larry Means arrives at the Federal Building in Montgomery, Ala., Friday, Feb. 24, 2012. Means and five others are on trial on federal bribery and conspiracy charges involving a vote buying scheme in the Alabama Senate.

Montgomery Advertiser, Mickey Welsh) NO SALES, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The prosecution in Alabama's gambling corruption trial wrapped up its case Friday evening and jury deliberations could begin early next week.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson told defense attorneys to let him know on Saturday whether they will present any witnesses. Thompson told jurors that they could hear closing arguments as early as Tuesday and then begin deliberations.

In the first case last summer, the defense put on only one witness. Defense attorneys said Friday they had made no decision yet on whether to present any witnesses.

Also Friday, prosecutors announcing they were dropping four of the 32 counts in the case. That wiped out wire fraud charges against VictoryLand casino owner Milton McGregor and his lobbyist, Tom Coker.

The first trial ended in August with two defendants acquitted, no one convicted, and the jury unable to decide all charges against some defendants. That necessitated the second trial, which began Feb. 6, for McGregor, Coker, state Sen. Harri Anne Smith, former Sens. Larry Means and Jim Preuitt, and casino spokesman Jay Walker.

They face conspiracy and bribery charges accusing them of buying and selling votes for legislation designed to protect casinos like McGregor's from a state crackdown on electronic bingo games.

The second trial has gone much faster than the first one's 10 weeks, because the prosecution eliminated some witnesses it used the first time, including a casino lobbyist who pleaded guilty and some legislators who helped the FBI with its investigation of vote buying.

Late Friday afternoon, FBI agent George Glaser testified that Preuitt told him he knew nothing about any bribes, even though a lobbyist has admitted offering him bribes. The charges against Preuitt include lying to a federal agent. Preuitt's attorney will get to question Glaser on Monday.

Also on Friday, prosecutors sought to back up testimony last week by Country Crossing casino developer Ronnie Gilley, who pleaded guilty last year to offering bribes to legislators. Gilley testified that he provided $200,000 in campaign contributions to Smith's 2010 re-election campaign but disguised the donations by routing them through political action committees.

Former political consultant Bryant Raby testified Friday that Gilley gave $200,000 to political action committees he ran and then he sent $200,000 to other PACs run by Montgomery lobbyist Johnny Crawford. Raby said he wrote checks to Crawford's PACs at the direction of Smith's campaign consultant, David Mowery.

Under questioning by Smith's defense attorney, Raby said, "I never talked to Senator Smith about it." He also said he never saw any checks written from Crawford's PACs to Smith's campaign.

A defense attorney for McGregor tried on Friday to prove his client's innocence by pointing out that during the FBI's investigation, McGregor made calls on the two cell phones he had for years while Gilley changed cell phones every few days.

Defense attorney Ben Espy sought to show that the VictoryLand casino owner had nothing to hide during the investigation in 2010. He presented transcripts of secretly recorded phone calls where state Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, called Country Crossing casino developer Ronnie Gilley on Gilley's regular cell phone and Gilley said he would call back on another phone.

When he called back, Gilley told Beason that he changed cell phones every three days because he was concerned about people listening to his calls. Gilley made the return call on a prepaid phone call that couldn't be easily traced to him like a regular cell phone.

"I carry one with me all the time," Gilley said in the call.

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