Alabama Scandal: Mr. Sanford Goes to Montgomery

PHOTO Senator Paul Sanford, the owner of a popular bar-b-que restaurant, claimed in an exclusive interview with ABC News that he turned down a bribe of $250,000.
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An Alabama state senator who went to the FBI two years ago to blow the whistle on corruption in the legislature says the indictments this week of four colleagues and a group of lobbyists are a "dream come true."

Senator Paul Sanford, the owner of a popular barbeque restaurant in Huntsville, Alabama, told ABC News he found the tainted culture of the statehouse to be widespread and visible as soon as he arrived in Montgomery, where lobbyists and corrupt officials rule the day.

"There's always a backdoor deal going on in somebody's office or in the corner of the chamber or over dinner with a lobbyist," Sen. Sanford told ABC News. "There's always somebody working an unusual angle to try to sway your vote or entice you with a vote."

Sanford's interview with ABC News Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross can be seen on this week's episode of Brian Ross Investigates.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE INTERVIEW WITH PAUL SANFORD

Complaints from Sanford and others led to a two-year federal investigation that this week brought the arrest of four Alabama state senators and three lobbyists. They were charged with arranging to trade critical votes favoring gambling legislation for cash, campaign donations and other benefits, according to the 39-count indictment unsealed Monday.

Sanford sought help from the FBI after allegedly being offered a $250,000 bribe. He told ABC News he considered the arrests "a dream come true" because he said they may force reform in a state with some of the most lax ethics laws in the nation.

"Watching these guys get handcuffed walking across the screen… I've loved it.," Sen. Paul Sanford said by phone from his restaurant in Huntsville. "It tells the people of Alabama that integrity does matter. We want to be able to trust our public officials and we should expect more from them."

Sanford Talked To FBI

Sanford was one of several lawmakers to solicit help from the FBI after gaming lobbyists began floating offers of financial payoffs for lawmakers who would help with the controversial bingo legislation. In his case, he said, it was Jarrod D. Massey, one of three lobbyists indicted Monday.

"He had two clients that he represented, that each one of them was prepared to write me a check for $125, 000," Sanford told ABC News. "They just wanted to know where I stood on a piece of legislation known as the Sweet Home Alabama," a bill to allow a statewide voter referendum on an amendment to the state constitution that would permit bingo.

There were 11 arrests in all, including one defendant who allegedly offered to provide campaign contributions "until the damn cows come home" in exchange for one legislator's vote, according to the indictment. Jarrell Walker, 36, an employee of casino business developer, Ronald E. Gilley, allegedly promised $2 million in campaign contributions and use of country music stars for State Senator James E. Preuitt's reelection campaign.

Both were among those indicted, as were State Sens. Larry P. Means, Quinton T. Ross Jr., and Harri Anne H. Smith.

Alabama's state legislature has a dismal record on ethics, with some of the weakest rules in the nation governing interactions between lawmakers and the lobbyists who aim to influence them. In Alabama, for instance, lobbyists are permitted to spend up to $250 a day buying legislators meals, gifts, rounds of golf, or other inducements without having to disclose any of it.

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