Lobbyist gave to 2 Ala. senators contacted by FBI

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 6, 2010

MONTGOMERY (AP) — Two of the three senators who provided the swing votes to pass an electronic bingo bill in the Alabama Senate received campaign contributions from a Montgomery lobbyist whom the FBI tried to interview within hours of the vote.

The three swing voters — Democrats Bobby Denton of Muscle Shoals and Larry Means of Gadsden, and Republican Jim Preuitt of Talladega — were also contacted by the FBI after their crucial votes March 30.

Jarrod Massey, whose lobbying clients include the Country Crossing electronic bingo casino in Dothan, said he was contacted by agents at his Montgomery home. Campaign finance reports show Massey contributed to the re-election campaigns of Means and Preuitt before the legislative session began in January.

Massey said Monday those contributions never came up in his brief discussion with the FBI about 8 a.m. March 31. That discussion ended when Massey told the FBI he wanted an attorney.

Massey hired two Birmingham attorneys, but when they contacted the FBI, they were told the window of opportunity for Massey to talk had passed, attorney Brett Bloomston said.

The electronic bingo bill, sponsored by Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, originally stalled in the Senate on March 3 when Bedford fell three votes short of the 21 votes he needed. He tried again on March 30 and got the 21 votes. Preuitt and Denton switched from being opponents to proponents. Means, who did not vote March 3, voted for the bill March 30.

Campaign finance reports filed by the candidates and confirmed by Massey show he or his political action committees gave $2,000 to Preuitt and $500 to Means. He did not give to Denton, who is not seeking re-election after 32 years in the Senate.

Massey said he gave contributions to 12 of the 21 senators who voted yes and doesn’t recall giving to any senators who voted no. He said his contributions were small compared to other donations senators had received.

Country Crossing developer Ronnie Gilley also contributed to some of the bill’s supporters. For instance, state Sen. Harri Anne Smith, R-Slocomb, reported $10,000 in direct contributions and $217,817 for in-kind contributions for advertising, food and rent.

On Saturday, the Alabama Republican Party’s Candidate Committee decided that Smith could not run for re-election as a Republican because she had endorsed a Democrat, Bobby Bright, for Congress in 2008. The party issued a statement Monday saying the committee’s decision was not based on any of Smith’s votes on public policy issues.

Denton held a news conference Sunday night, where he said four FBI agents visited his Montgomery hotel room the night of March 30. He said the agents asked why he changed his vote and whether he received anything for the vote. They also asked whether he had talked with country singers George Jones and Randy Owen, who are involved in the Country Crossing development, and whether they offered him anything, such as a guitar.

Denton said he talked to the two entertainers during the recent induction ceremony for the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, but nothing was offered. He called the questioning insulting.

“After 32 years as a state senator, now my integrity has come under attack for the first time,” Denton said.

Denton said he changed his vote because Bedford had simplified the bill after it stalled in early March and because the bill would allow Alabama voters to decide on Nov. 2 whether they want the state government to tax and regulate electronic bingo or leave it untaxed and unregulated like it is now.

Preuitt told the Gadsden Times that he was contacted briefly by the FBI and Alabama Bureau of Investigation after the vote. Means issued a statement last week saying he would cooperate with the FBI any way he could.