|Silver Star Casino|
Two days have passed since federal authorities launched an investigation at Mississippi Choctaw casinos, and we still don't know what prompted the action.
When news broke on Tuesday afternoon of an FBI raid at the Silver Star and Golden Moon casinos, many Alabamians wondered if it was driven by the political ugliness that has engulfed our state since George W. Bush entered the White House. After all, news reports indicate that Mississippi Choctaws spent $13 million, funneled through Republican felon Jack Abramoff, to help get Bob Riley elected governor in 2002. And Riley's apparent desire to protect the Choctaws market share, by stamping out gaming in Alabama, led to a federal electronic-bingo prosecution that is ongoing in Montgomery.
If Tuesday's raid has anything to do with Riley, Abramoff, and perhaps the Bush administration (hello, Karl Rove!), it would be a major national story. But so far, we have no indication that such weighty issues are driving the investigation. If they are, that would mean the Obama Department of Justice actually has its head out of you know where--and we've seen no sign that Eric Holder and Co. are up to the task of investigating and prosecuting Bush-era crimes.
With that in mind, our guess is that the raid was driven by relatively minor issues, perhaps intratribal skulduggery. A few details about the raid are emerging, and while no one has placed a finger on the focus of the investigation, some reports have dropped serious hints.
Articles in the Jackson Clarion Ledger and Neshoba Democrat hinted that the raid has something to do with a recent, hotly contested tribal election. From the Neshoba Democrat article:
A search warrant executed by the FBI at Pearl River Resort on Tuesday could be related to election fraud, multiple sources told The Neshoba Democrat.
A Jackson Clarion-Ledger article also addressed possible election issues. Curiously, the article quotes Birmingham lawyer G. Douglas Jones, a former U.S. attorney who has strong ties to Rob Riley, Governor Riley's son:
Phyliss J. Anderson would have taken office Tuesday, but the Tribal Council voted Friday to throw out that election and hold a new one Sept. 6. Salary for the job is $466,000 a year.
Current chief, Beasley Denson, who lost to Anderson, last week cast the deciding vote in favor of a new election. . . .
During the hotly contested election, Anderson publicly called for an audit on the casinos and transparency in the tribe's spending. Choctaw tribe members each receive $500 every six months.
Various news reports have indicated that some 40 FBI agents participated in the raid, and they focused on computer hard drives, financial records, and phone records. I'm hardly an expert on Choctaw ways, but that doesn't sound like an investigation of election issues; it sounds like money is the focus. An Internet search indicates the Choctaw tribal headquarters are at 101 Industrial Road in Choctaw, MS. Wouldn't that have been the site of an election-related investigation?
A more likely focus, to our ears, is provided by a report last night from television station WLBT in Jackson. From the report by Cheryl Lasseter:
WLBT has learned the raid was likely related to a relationship between Miko Beasley Denson and Mercury Gaming in Atlanta.
Doug Pattison is CEO of Mercury Gaming, a gaming consultant group.
The website also lists "The Titan Agency", which is an advertising arm of the company.
Sources tell 3 On Your Side Chief Denson had been paying Pattison $60,000 a month.
Then in February, that payout shot up to $250,000 a month.
The tribal council didn't know about the payouts.
Just last week, Chief Denson lost his re-election bid to Phyllis Anderson.
Then, Denson cast the deciding vote to throw out that election.
That's pretty serious reporting from WLBT, and it will be interesting to see if an Atlanta focus develops in this investigation. Under that scenario, the investigation might cover both money and election sleaze.
The far bigger Choctaw-related crimes almost certainly involve Alabama and GOP figures of national prominence. And some sources tell Legal Schnauzer that they look for Bob Riley's ties to the Choctaws to eventually be exposed. But I have a hard time believing that Eric Holder actually could serve some useful purpose while he is U.S. attorney general.
Politics, of course, should not play a factor in any federal investigation. But there is a mountain of evidence that points to a stream of funny money that flows from Mississippi to Alabama. The Obama DOJ merely needs to rise from its slumber long enough to take notice.
Most Americans, I suspect, have great sympathy for the plight of Native American tribes. But the Mississippi Choctaws have sullied the political environment in Alabama to an unconscionable degree. To Alabama, the Mississippi Choctaws have been the "neighbor from hell." Public documents from a U.S. Senate investigation show that Choctaw leaders jumped in bed with Abramoff, Michael Scanlon, and others out of pure greed--a desire to reduce their tax burden and protect their market share.
Many Alabamians want to know exactly how our state was dragged into a GOP mud pit--and they want someone to be held accountable. Those Alabamians, by the way, include quite a few Republicans who know that the Riley crowd was a bunch of thugs.
Is the Obama DOJ capable of providing answers? Well, the president has from now until November 2012 to show his progressive supporters that he actually has a spine--that justice issues, of supreme importance to his political base, also matter to him.
Mississippi might seem like a strange place for the Obama administration to make a stand. But the opportunity is there. A serious investigation of Choctaw finances, even if it starts with an intratribal focus, surely will eventually turn to Alabama.
If the DOJ does the right thing, it could advance the cause of justice while rousing Obama's base enough to almost ensure re-election.