Casino lobbyist’s attorneys fault Ala. bingo probe

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 3, 2010

MONTGOMERY (AP) — Attorneys representing a Country Crossing casino lobbyist said Friday they are concerned that an investigation of possible corruption linked to a bingo bill in the Alabama Legislature is politically motivated to kill the measure.

“It smells of a desperate attempt to keep Alabama from getting this issue,” attorney Brett Bloomston said at a news conference in front of the Statehouse.

Gov. Bob Riley, who has fought the bill and tried to close down electronic bingo casinos, said the investigation was being run by the federal government, and he has nothing to do with it.

“It really is somewhat silly to say the governor’s office would have any influence or control of an FBI investigation,” Riley said.

A state investigator, however, tried to question the Country Crossing lobbyist, and Riley’s appointed director of public safety summoned six legislative leaders to a meeting Thursday at his office with federal officials who informed them of the probe.

Public Safety Director Chris Murphy issued a statement Friday saying he was asked by the FBI to call the legislative leaders to the meeting with officials from the Justice Department. He said the federal officials sought his involvement because they did not know Alabama’s legislative leaders and wanted to use his office because it was more discrete than meeting at the Statehouse.

When asked why a Department of Public Safety employee tried to interview the Country Crossing lobbyist if it is an FBI investigation, Public Safety spokeswoman Martha Earnhardt said the department had been requested by the FBI to make no comment beyond Murphy’s statement.

The legislators who were in the meeting said they were not told any details of the investigation, except that it concerned public corruption in connection to the bill to legalize, tax and regulate electronic bingo casinos.

Bloomston and his partner, Joe Basgier, represent Jarrod Massey, who lobbies for the Country Crossing casino at Dothan that has closed to prevent a raid by the governor’s gambling task force.

They said an investigator from the Department of Public Safety, Sgt. Joe Herman, and two FBI officers tried to interview Massey at his home at 8 a.m. Wednesday, after the Senate narrowly passed the bingo bill Tuesday night.

They said the interview and another later in the day with Massey’s assistant at the FBI office in Montgomery appear designed to have a chilling effect on the legislation, which is awaiting action in the House. They filed a complaint with the Justice Department, saying the investigation should be handled by the Justice Department in Washington rather than the U.S. attorney in Montgomery, who is a holdover from the Bush administration.

The attorneys and Country Crossing spokesman Jay Walker said the chief federal prosecutor in Montgomery, Leura Canary, is married to Billy Canary, one of the governor’s closest allies.

“I’m very angry a governor running a police state was trying to intimidate the Legislature,” Walker said.

Leura Canary’s spokeswoman referred questions to a spokeswoman for the Justice Department’s criminal division, who declined comment.

Riley said Friday he hopes any allegation of corruption received by the FBI is not true.

“Because if it is true, then the level of corruption that we’ve gotten into in the state of Alabama is becoming a real threat to this state,” he said.