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DOJ: Alabama bingo probe not meant to alter vote

MONTGOMERY(AP) — A top Justice Department official says the disclosure of a probe of possible corruption in the Alabama Legislature on a bill to regulate and legalize electronic bingo isn’t meant to influence an upcoming vote in the Alabama House.

The acting chief of the Public Integrity Section, Raymond N. Hulser, made the statement in a letter to Birmingham attorney Doug Jones, who represents the Democratic caucuses in the House and Senate and who questioned the actions and timing of federal and state investigators.

Jones in his letter to Justice Department officials said one of the state investigators in the probe is a member of the Governor’s Task Force on Illegal Gambling, which was formed by Gov. Bob Riley to shut down bingo casinos in Alabama.

He said the disclosure of the probe in a meeting with top legislators by federal and state investigators had a “chilling effect” on those preparing to vote on the measure.

“Neither the Public Integrity Section nor the FBI have any intent to interfere with the functions of the legislature of the State of Alabama, a fellow government agency,” Hulser said in response.

Jones, however, expressed “grave concern” about the timing of the meeting, which occurred two days after the Senate passed the proposed constitutional amendment and sent the issue to the House.

The bill passed the Senate with 21 votes, exactly the number needed to approve a constitutional amendment.

The House Tourism and Travel Committee is scheduled to vote Tuesday on the bingo bill. If approved by the committee, the full House could take up the issue as early as Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for the Justice Department in Washington, Laura Sweeney, declined to comment Monday.

Jones, a former U.S. attorney, said Monday that he wrote the letter to the Justice Department “expressing my very serious concerns about what appeared to be an attempt to improperly influence the Legislature.”

Hulser wrote in his letter to Jones that the federal investigators are not getting involved in Alabama politics.

“Our sole function is to investigate and prosecute violations of federal criminal law, and that is what we intend to do,” Hulser said.

In a follow-up letter to Hulser, Jones expressed concern that the only senators interviewed in the investigation at first were those who were on record as having changed their votes from being against the bill to being for it.

“This alone sends a strong message to any House member yet to vote, that regardless of the merits of the legislation, if for any reason they change their mind on the bingo issue, they will get a visit by FBI agents,” Jones wrote.

Jones said Monday that his letters to the DOJ officials were not intended to stop or influence the investigation.

“Our intent is not to shut anything down,” Jones said.