Legislators told of FBI probe into Ala. bingo bill

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 2, 2010

MONTGOMERY(AP) — Six top legislative leaders were told Thursday that the FBI is investigating whether public corruption was involved in the Senate passing the electronic bingo bill that could eventually legalize the machines.

No one said what the FBI specifically was investigating or what sort of corruption might be involved. However, House Minority Leader Rep. Mike Hubbard of Auburn said after the meeting he warned House Republicans not to take anything of value in exchange for a vote.

“I told them to avoid any type of quid pro quo, not to even joke about it,” Hubbard said.

Senate Majority Leader Zeb Little, D-Cullman, who attended the meeting, said he found the timing suspicious and believed it was designed to block legislation that would let Alabama citizens vote on whether they want to tax and regulate electronic bingo. Gov. Bob Riley, a Republican, opposes the measure.

“The governor is using everything in the book to deny the people the right to vote,” said Little.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Louis Franklin in Montgomery said he could not comment on the meeting.

“They said they had substantial evidence that there was public corruption involved in the bingo issue. They said it was not a fishing expedition, and they would appreciate our cooperation,” said Senate Minority Leader Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills.

Besides Little and Waggoner, also in the meeting were House Speaker Seth Hammett, D-Andalusia; House Majority Leader Ken Guin, D-Carbon Hill; House Minority Leader Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn; and Democratic Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr.

Holding the meeting were state Public Safety Director Chris Murphy and representatives of the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Montgomery and the Justice Department’s public integrity unit from Washington. Riley appoints the state public safety director.

Jeff Emerson, communications director for Riley, said the governor was not aware the meeting was taking place.

“He’s had nothing to do with the investigation. From what our office was told by people in the meeting, the investigation is being run by the Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.,” Emerson said.

The meeting came two days after the Senate passed a bill to allow Alabama citizens to vote on the machines. The bill is pending in the House. After the Senate passed it, Riley called it “the most corrupt piece of legislation ever considered by the Senate.”

Folsom’s spokesman, Chip Hill, said the legislative leaders were told an inquiry was being made into members of the Legislature and they were being notified as a courtesy.

Hill said Folsom told investigators he was not aware of any wrongdoing.

“He hopes the timing of the meeting is not orchestrated or designed to infringe upon the people’s right to vote on an issue of great concern to them,” Hill said.

Waggoner said he had not seen any signs that the meeting was political.