We reported on September 8 that Leura Canary, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, was planning to indict a number of legislators and casino operators as an "October Surprise" designed to affect the November election.
That prediction became reality with news that an indictment of 11 individuals was issued this morning, and the FBI began making arrests. VictoryLand casino owner Milton McGregor, four state senators, and several lobbyists were among those indicted.
Canary, a holdover from the George W. Bush administration, has served under President Barack Obama for more than 20 months. She was a central figure in the political prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. Her husband, Business Council of Alabama President Bill Canary, is a close associate of Karl Rove.
The U.S. Justice Department is spinning today's actions as a legitimate probe focused on corruption connected to gambling legislation. But our sources have been saying for weeks that it is designed to affect the November elections. Polls show Republican Robert Bentley already leading Democrat Ron Sparks in the race for governor, and the arrests could help the GOP take over one or both houses of the Alabama Legislature, a long-stated goal of outgoing governor Bob Riley.
Reports the Montgomery Advertiser:
The indictment, which has 11 defendants, was released Monday as FBI agents made arrests at several locations across Alabama.
It accuses the casino owners and statehouse figures of conspiring to make payments and campaign donations to affect "pro-gambling legislation."
VictoryLand casino owner Milton McGregor was among those indicted. His casino, now shut down, has more than 6,000 electronic bingo machines. Also indicted was Country Crossing casino developer Ronnie Gilley of Dothan and state Sens. Harri Anne Smith of Slocomb, James Prueitt of Talladega, Larry Means of Gadsden and Quinton Ross Jr. of Montgomery.
Our source said the indictments were scheduled for around October 1, and that date proved to be right on target. The indictments are dated last Friday, October 1, but were not announced until today, as arrests were being made.
The Justice Department, in a statement, said the accused acted "in a conspiracy to offer and bribe legislators for their votes and influence on proposed legislation." Writes the Advertiser:
Also indicted were lobbyists Tom Coker and Bob Geddie, who represent VictoryLand; lobbyist Jarrod Massey and public relations executive Jay Walker, who represent Country Crossing; and Ray Crosby, an attorney for the Legislature who helped write gambling legislation.
The Justice Department said the indictment "alleges that Sen. Means, who had abstained from an earlier vote on the pro-gambling legislation in 2010, solicited bribes from McGregor, Gilley, Massey and others, and, in one specific instance, sought $100,000 in return for voting in favor of the legislation."
The indictments resulted from a federal grand jury investigation in Montgomery.
The probe was announced last spring prior to the final votes on the bill, which died when sponsors could not line up the necessary votes for passage. Backers of the bill, mostly Democrats, accused Republican Gov. Bob Riley's administration of derailing the measure with the announcement of the probe. While Riley's state public safety director was involved with the announcement, federal authorities said the Justice Department was handling the investigation.
Means and Ross are Democrats, Pruett is a Republican, and Smith is an Independent. That appears to be a relatively bipartisan target list. But there is little doubt that Canary and her prosecutors went after Democrats and others who oppose Gov. Riley and his efforts to shut down gaming in Alabama. As we reported on September 8:
Our source, who has close ties to the Alabama legal community, says the plan is set to take flight around October 1 and might include an indictment of Ron Sparks, the Democratic candidate for governor. In other words, plans for a political prosecution that is designed to affect the outcome of an election might be taking place right under the Obama administration's nose.
So far, there is no word of an indictment on Sparks. But what does all of this say about the Obama administration? It already had a dreadful record on justice issues. And yet it backs a process where neither Gov. Riley nor any of his conservative backers who opposed gambling were apparently even investigated. We've seen no sign of a probe into the $13 million in Mississippi gaming money that reportedly was spent to help get Riley elected in 2002. Canary seems to have focused only on pro-gambling individuals, who tend to be Democrats or Riley critics.
And here is the huge question: Why is Leura Canary still in office in the first place?
What is this "investigation" all about? It looks like a thinly veiled effort to pay back Riley's Mississippi gaming supporters--who reportedly laundered money through Jack Abramoff, Michael Scanlon, and Ralph Reed--by shutting down competition in Alabama.
The George W. Bush Department of Justice (DOJ) was a nightmare. But this happened today on Barack Obama's watch. That can only be described as shameful.