Alabama casino developer Ronnie Gilley pled guilty Friday to 11 counts of conspiracy, money laundering and bribery, the latest plea deal in a corruption scandal that led to the indictment of four state legislators late last year.
The gaming industry had mounted a years-long effort to pass laws in Alabama that would legalize electronic bingo, and Alabama's lax lobbying rules had led to cozy relationships between lawmakers and lobbyists. At a national convention of state legislators last summer, student journalists working for the Brian Ross Investigative Unit found four Alabama lawmakers golfing with a gaming lobbyist instead of attending a seminar on good government. Separately, in October, federal authorities charged 11 individuals, including lobbyists, gaming executives and state legislators, with conspiring to trade votes for cash.
Gilley, who owned the now closed Country Crossing Casino in Dothan, Alabama, was arrested along with Milton McGregor, owner of VictoryLand Greyhound Park, two current state senators, two former state senators and several lobbyists.
The lobbyists who were indicted in October are accused of attempting to buy votes in order to get the legislature to pass a constitutional amendment allowing casinos to run electronic bingo slot machines. Gilley and a lobbyist working for him, Jarrod Massey, were charged with offering State Senator Scott Beason a public relations job worth $1 million. Beason, a Republican from Gardendale, wore a wire during the investigation, and according to the federal indictment captured the alleged offer of the job on tape.
Massey and a second Gilley lobbyist, Jennifer Pouncy, have accepted plea deals in which they will testify for the prosecution. Both Massey and Pouncy claim they offered millions of dollars in bribes to state legislators on behalf of Gilley in order to pass the bingo legislation.
Gilley faces up to 27 years in federal prison when sentenced in November. The length of his sentence depends on the degree of his cooperation with prosecutors.
McGregor and the other defendants who have not yet accepted plea deals are scheduled to go to trial in June. Through his attorney McGregor has consistently maintained his innocence.
After last fall's indictments, the Alabama legislature passed reforms that address some of the loopholes that were allegedly exploited during the gaming industry's years-long effort to pass a law allowing electronic bingo in Alabama. Former Governor Bob Riley, long an advocate of ethics reform, called for a special session of the legislature to pass the reforms.
Hidden transfers of money from one political action committee (PAC) to another -- allegedly a means by which gaming lobbyists were able to funnel money to legislators -- are no longer permitted. In addition, under Alabama's old rules, lobbyists could spend up to $250 a day on an individual legislator without disclosure, or more than $90,000 a year. Instead of Gov. Riley's proposed $25 daily cap, the new limit is $50, and because of exceptions added to the bill Alabama continues to permit unlimited spending on so-called "educational meetings" and for meals at "widely attended events."
The legislature is currently considering further changes to ethics laws that would address "vagueness" in the reforms enacted after the special session.