McGregor declined to hire Rob Riley, a Homewood attorney, and now believes that played a major role in Bob Riley's decision to instigate raids against VictoryLand, claiming the casino's electronic-bingo machines were illegal--even though voters approved a constitutional amendment approving e-bingo at the facility, and the machines had operated lawfully for five years before Gov. Riley took action in 2008.
That is one of many fascinating insights from last week's Montgomery Advertiser article titled "Gambling in Alabama: A high-stakes game of political intrigue." The article, reported and written by Josh Moon, probably is the most comprehensive look ever at a subject that has sullied Alabama's political landscape for decades.
Bob Riley denies seeking a job for his son during the meeting with McGregor. But the former governor comes across as uncomfortable and defensive when confronted with the story--and the overall tone of Moon's reporting leaves the impression that McGregor's version likely is the one much closer to the truth.
Moon's reporting goes well beyond Alabama, touching on national figures such as Republican felons Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon, who both have documented ties to Bob Riley and his political campaigns. In my view, Moon's piece is must reading about corruption that eats at our democracy, and the article deserves strong consideration for some of the biggest prizes in journalism.
It gets off to a compelling start with a vivid description of a meeting between McGregor and Bob Riley:
In September 2008, Milton McGregor, the bombastic owner of VictoryLand, the state's largest casino, was summoned to the governor's office for a lunch.
Gov. Bob Riley's purpose for that meeting wasn't clear, but the request to meet wasn't particularly unusual. While McGregor and Riley weren't exactly close pals, the two were friendly enough at the time and various meetings had occurred between the two over the years. . . .
As he entered the governor's office that September afternoon, McGregor noticed that two small Chick-fil-A boxes had already been set out on the governor's long conference table. He asked if Riley was on a diet, but McGregor said he knew the small lunch was a sign that this meeting would be less about food and more about whatever it was Riley wanted to discuss.
"(Riley) wanted me to hire his son, Rob," McGregor said. "He didn't make any bones about it. He said to me, 'I know you're doing well. I've seen your numbers. I think any business doing that well during a Riley administration should benefit the Riley family in some way.'"
McGregor said he responded by asking Riley if the governor was implying that VictoryLand's success was a result of Riley's policies. Riley said no, but McGregor said that didn't quell the demands that Rob Riley, an attorney, receive a job working for McGregor.
"It wasn't a request, it was a demand," McGregor said.
That set the tone for what proved to be an unpleasant get together:
After McGregor declined more than once, he said Riley told him that he had seen the McGregors' personal tax returns, even cited income numbers that McGregor said were "pretty doggone accurate."
In a matter of minutes, the two men were in a heated argument, their voices so loud that eventually Riley's secretary popped open the door and asked if everything was OK. She was waved away and the argument continued for more than an hour, with Riley's later appointments, including a group of county commissioners, stacking up in the waiting area outside his office.
In McGregor's mind, the whole ugly scene was the catalyst for many of his subsequent troubles — the raids, the court rulings, the arrest and unsuccessful prosecution of him on federal charges and the slow crumbling of his business.
While McGregor remembers the lunch menu and word-for-word dialogue, Riley's memory seems cloudy. He claims the meeting had nothing to do with Rob Riley's employment prospects, but he doesn't remember much about what it might have been about. He says the door to his office would have been open, with at least two people listening to every word, but he apparently did not supply those people's names.
Riley doesn't remember a heated exchange, or a secretary checking in to see if things were OK.
"It simply didn't happen," Bob Riley said. "Why on earth would I ask Milton McGregor to hire Rob? That makes no sense."
Moon proceeds to show why it would have made perfect sense, mainly because of the Riley family's long-time ties to gambling. Plus, Rob Riley already had done business with Milton McGregor.
(To be continued)