Monday, June 6, 2011

BingoGate: “Let the show begin!”

image One of the biggest trials in the history of the state of Alabama is set to begin today, as jury selection kicks off what is expected to be many weeks of testimony, evidence, cross examination, daring aerial acrobatics, amazing animal stunts and of course, the clowns.

Nine defendants, including casino owner, political powerbroker and Auburn booster Milton McGregor, mega-lobbyist and Auburn graduate Robert Geddie and a host of legislators will stand trial on charges of conspiracy, bribery, money laundering and fraud. The prosecution team is led by Justin Shur, one of the Department of Justice’s rising star litigators. Shur’s fingerprints are all over several of the US Attorney’s office’s most prized convictions, including a bribery conviction against former New Orleans Congressman “Dollar” Bill Jefferson and fraud conviction against an Army noncommissioned officer.

It is going to be a circus, but it’s going to have its moments of tense courtroom drama as well.  Here’s a short look at the expected strategies of the “offense” and “defense.”

What the Offense Must Do:

Prove that Milton McGregor and his band of merry lobbyists bribed legislators in a “quid pro quo” arrangement, offering them campaign cash, campaign appearances by country music stars, jobs, polling assistance and other things of value. In exchange, the legislators would support a bill that would place a constitutional amendment on the November 2010 ballot legalizing electronic bingo gambling.

Show, through hours of recorded telephone conversations, that the legislators willingly took the bribes and agreed to the quid pro quo arrangement. The FBI recorded more than 12,000 telephone conversations over approximately one month’s time. They have McGregor, Geddie, Tom Coker, Ronnie Gilley, Jarrod Massey and Jennifer Pouncy all talking to each other and the legislators they’re accused of bribing. The prosecution must show that the accused committed numerous illegal acts in furtherance of the conspiracy, and that in doing so, deprived the people of the state of Alabama of their “honest services” as public officials.

What the Defense Must Do:

Prove that this was “business as usual” in the halls of the State House in Montgomery. Basically, the defense wants the jury to believe that no quid pro quo existed at all. McGregor, Gilley and other politically powerful people and organizations regularly support candidates who support their legislative proposals and overall political goals. Yes, it’s a lot of money. Yes, it looks dirty. But it’s not illegal and it’s been going on since, well, since like forever.

Prove that the recorded phone conversations are nothing more than “business as usual” behind the scenes. The defense believes that many of the transcripts of recordings are exculpatory, meaning that some of the stuff the accused talk about shows there was no criminal intent; that the players were conscious of overstepping the legal boundaries and crossing over to the Dark Side.

The show will go on before a “sold out” audience. National, regional and local media will almost certainly jam every seat in District Judge Myron Thompson’s courtroom. With defense teams representing nine defendants plus the prosecution team, sidebars are going to be courtroom GOLD.  It’s unlikely that there will be room for even a handful of ordinary public citizens, but the perp walks this morning and on the mornings to come over the next several weeks should also be something of a spectator sport.

I won’t be live-blogging the trial. I’ll be relying on media reports and court documents just like everyone else. But if I see something unusual or noteworthy from any of my resources, I’ll be sure and pass it along.

Getcha some popcorn folks, and Let The Show Begin!

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