Get it over, already

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 28, 2012

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson will convene court for what has been dubbed “Bingo Lite” by editorialists across the state.

It is the U.S. Justice Department’s second stab at the case. In a previous trial of nine defendants accused of bribery and corruption that took a good chunk of the judge’s summer, a jury acquitted two defendants of all charges and returned 91 not-guilty verdicts. They couldn’t agree on 33 charges, and for those, seven people will go back to court in the coming week.

Much has happened since then. In October, Judge Thompson questioned the motives of those cooperating with investigators, saying they weren’t interested in stemming corruption, but simply wanted to keep a pro-gambling measure off the Nov. 2010 ballot because it would hurt the GOP’s chance of gaining control of the Legislature. He also has warned all involved that he’ll convene court on Saturdays to expedite procedures.

A federal judge has ruled that former Gov. Bob Riley – absent and recovering from a motorcycle wreck in Round I – must testify. Riley’s former cabinet member and campaign lieutenant Bill Johnson, who has presented evidence to U.S. attorneys, is expected to testify that Riley’s 2002 campaign for governor received $3 million laundered and funneled from the Mississippi Choctaw Indians, who wished to squash gambling in Alabama.

In the past two weeks, lead prosecutor Justin Shur has dropped out to take a job with a private firm in Washington. One writer said that was like a coach quitting before the Super Bowl.

And it has been revealed that two of the men who wore wires for the government and considered stars of the first trial – Alabama Sen. Scott Beason and former House member and current Houston County Judge Benjamin Lewis – won’t testify. Lewis, who was appointed to a judgeship after his cooperation with investigators, and Beason have lost credibility as government witnesses, largely because of an exchange in between the two in which Beason referred to African American residents as “aborigines.”

Most court watchers expect the remaining defendants also to be acquitted

Meanwhile, bingo facilities except those run by the Poarch Creek Indians in Wetumpka and Atmore are shuttered. The investigation and ensuing arrests hijacked an opportunity for Alabamians to vote up or down on gambling, at huge costs to communities like Macon County dependent upon the revenue derived from gaming.

We like the message sent by Judge Thompson’s plan to hold court on Saturdays: Get it over with already. Too many of our taxpayer dollars have been spent on this farce already.