To see an Alabama journalist asking tough questions about former Governor Bob Riley and his administration . . . well, it doesn't happen often.
Bob Lowry, of The Huntsville Times, has done it several times. Skylar Zwick, of Dothan's WTVY, did it before accepting a public-relations position in the Washington, D.C., area in April. Jon Paepcke, of Birmingham's WVTM, has joined the crowd, and we hope he sticks with it.
In the kind of real journalism that is all too rare in Alabama, Paepcke reveals that Riley's anti-gambling task force spent $3.95 million--and asks, "Was that money well spent?"
Former Alabama Attorney General Troy King has a ready answer:
During the two years of its existence, the Illegal Gambling Task Force cost taxpayers $3,948,850. So we asked King if he thought taxpayers got their money’s worth.
“I guess it depends on what they wanted. If they wanted fireworks and theatrics and they wanted to see state troopers swarming into business parking lots. If that's what they wanted, then they got it in spades,” King argued.
As an Alabama progressive, I can't believe I'm saying this . . . but I'm actually starting to like Troy King.
Paepcke provides plenty of details on how the Riley administration spent your tax dollars:
More than half of the illegal gambling task force costs came out of Governor Riley's office.
Of that $1.8 million, $1.7 million covered court and attorneys fees.
More than $131,000 paid for machine consultants and another $2,800 funded travel for task force commander David Barber and two others.
The Department of Public Safety spent nearly another $2 million on the task force.
That amount covered things like state trooper overtime, vehicle costs and aviation flight times.
The task force's final $114,000 came out of the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.
It paid for overtime, travel expenses, professional services and equipment rental.
Paepcke then gets to the crux of the matter--and Riley, as usual, proves slippery:
So, what did Alabama taxpayers get for that $4 million?
We directed that question to the man who created the illegal gambling task force, former Alabama governor, Bob Riley.
“Today there are no illegal slot machines here, so yes I think they got their money's worth. The laws were not being enforced and we would have never set up the task force if they had been enforced,” Riley said Friday.
King, in so many words, said Riley is full of it:
We asked King to respond to the claim that if he had simply done his job as the top law enforcement officer and properly enforced the gambling laws, the task force wouldn't have been necessary.
“Well the only thing that I could have done, that would have made the task force unnecessary would be for me to betray my oath for me to choose to throw the constitution to the wind and for me to choose to trample due process,” King countered. . . .
King . . . feels you should never put a price tag on prosecuting Alabama's criminals.
“But neither should we spend exorbitant amounts of money on crusades which have no basis in the law. That's what I believe that the governor's task force was,” King concluded.
The bottom line? According to our state's chief law-enforcement officer at the time, Gov. Riley spent $4 million of public funds on a crusade with "no basis in the law."
Will federal prosecutors ever take a serious look at the Riley administration? Will Jon Paepcke keep asking tough questions?
We hope the answer to both questions is yes. The big question is this: Who was pulling Bob Riley's strings during the bingo crusade? Whose private interests were being protected, with the use of Alabama's public funds?
If Jon Paepcke keeps digging, he will find a much bigger story beneath the surface of the Riley crusade.
Here is a video of Paepcke's report. Below that is the full interview with Troy King. The former AG needs to switch parties and run for office again. If he continues to show a spine, and respect for the rule of law, I definitely would consider voting for him: