MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The first witness in Alabama's gambling corruption trial testified Friday that the $3,000 a month indicted casino owner Milton McGregor paid to a deceased defendant created a troubling question of impropriety.
Montgomery "Monty" Feld supervised Ray Crosby before retiring in late 2010 as assistant director of the Legislative Reference Service. Crosby was found dead from natural causes in his Montgomery home on Jan. 29.
Under questioning by prosecutors, Feld testified that he talked with Crosby daily during their work as bill writers for the Alabama Legislature, but Crosby never revealed the payments from McGregor. He also testified that the state ethics law prohibits state employees from using their public positions for personal financial gain.
He said the $3,000 payments raise concerns because Crosby wrote pro-gambling and anti-gambling bills for the Legislature.
"It would trouble me as to the appearance of impropriety," Feld testified.
When questioned by McGregor's lawyer, Feld said he is unaware of Crosby doing anything out of the ordinary for the casino owner, and Crosby devoted as much energy to writing anti-gambling bills as he did pro-gambling bills.
The 14 charges against McGregor include one accusing him of paying $3,000-a-month bribes to Crosby for help with pro-gambling legislation. Prosecutors said the payments totaled more than $70,000 over two years and ended when the FBI revealed its investigation of Statehouse corruption.
McGregor lawyer Bobby Segall said the payments were for legitimate political consulting work and McGregor considered them appropriate because he reported them to the Internal Revenue Service for tax purposes.
Crosby was indicted along with McGregor and others in October 2010. After his death, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson granted a request from prosecutors to drop a charge against Crosby accusing him of taking bribes from McGregor. The charge accusing McGregor of paying the bribes remained for the trial.
McGregor and five others on trial are accused of buying and selling votes for pro-gambling legislation designed to protect McGregor's VictoryLand casino in Shorter from efforts by former Gov. Bob Riley to close it.
FBI agents wire-tapped McGregor's phone during their investigation of Statehouse corruption and recorded nearly 4,000 calls. Some of those were between McGregor and Crosby.
Under questioning by the defense lawyer, Feld said he had read transcripts of the calls between McGregor and Crosby. Asked if he saw any indication that Crosby did anything that was not part of his job responsibility, Feld answered, "I did not."
In addition to McGregor, the defendants on trial are state Sen. Harri Anne Smith, former Sens. Larry Means and Jim Preuitt, casino lobbyist Tom Coker and casino spokesman Jay Walker.
Feld testified that legislative records show Bedford first tried to bring up his pro-gambling bill for a vote in the Senate on March 3, 2010, but he fell three votes short of the number needed to begin debate. Smith voted to begin debate, Preuitt voted no, and Means did not vote.
Feld said legislative records show Bedford tried again late that month, and Means and Preuitt joined Smith then in helping pass the bill 21-13.
Two days later, the FBI disclosed its investigation of Statehouse corruption, and Bedford's bill died in the House without coming to a vote.
Prosecutors contend gambling interests offered Smith offered campaign contributions for her vote before March 3, 2010, and Preuitt and Means got the same offer after March 3 because their votes were needed to pass the bill. Defense attorneys said Means and Preuitt changed their positions because the bill had been rewritten to address their concerns.