Friday, May 7, 2010

Are Illegal Wiretaps Being Used in Alabama Bingo Investigation?

Reports out today indicate that the FBI conducted a wiretap of a conversation between gambling magnate Milton McGregor and a prominent Alabama lobbyist.

Previous news reports had stated that some Alabama legislators had worn listening devices, better known as wires, as part of a federal investigation into lobbying efforts connected to electronic bingo. But this is the first report, to our knowledge, of wiretaps being used.

And that raises this question: Are the wiretaps being conducted in a lawful manner? Given the U.S. Justice Department's recent record on such issues, it seems to be a valid question.

The Birmingham News reported that a conversation between McGregor and Montgomery lobbyist Bob Geddie was captured from their cell phones. Alabama Rep. David Grimes, who revealed the wiretap after testifying before a grand jury yesterday, said he did not think the tape revealed illegal activity.

But here is a question that should be asked: Was it illegal for the wiretap to be conducted in the first place?

The Birmingham News reports today:

Sources familiar with the investigation have said the probe has included the use of wiretaps, and several lawmakers agreed to wear wires to capture the conversations between themselves, other lawmakers, and lobbyists.

Perhaps sources have said that about wiretaps previously. But I read the Birmingham newspaper closely every day, and I've seen no reporting on the matter. The News, long an ally of Republican Governor Bob Riley and Bush-appointed U.S. Attorney Leura Canary (who, inexplicably, remains in office under Barack Obama), does not tell us who ordered the wiretaps involving McGregor.

Our guess is that Canary, with assistance from loyal Bushies who remain embedded in the Department of Justice, initiated the wiretap of McGregor. And the whole charade probably started at the request of Riley, who reportedly benefitted from millions of Jack Abramoff-laundered dollars from Mississippi gaming interests, intent on keeping gambling out of Alabama.

All of this raises deeply troubling questions about a DOJ that Obama is supposed to be overseeing.

We don't claim to be experts on the legality of wiretaps. Perhaps the FBI had probable cause to believe that McGregor was engaging in illegal activity--and perhaps that was sufficient to obtain a warrant. But here's the kicker: This investigation has been billed as an examination of all parties connected to the electronic-bingo debate in Alabama--those who are for it (such as McGregor) and those who are against it (such as Riley).

If there was probable cause to eavesdrop on McGregor and Geddie, surely there was probable cause to eavesdrop on Riley and his associates. Has Riley had any phone conversations recently with Indian gaming interests, who perhaps are bankrolling his anti-gambling crusade? Is it possible that Mississippi Choctaw gaming interests have dirt on Riley that is so ugly they are able to blackmail him into wasting millions of Alabama-taxpayer dollars?

We recently wrote a post titled "Riley's Ties to Criminals Hit the National Spotlight." It outlined his connections to felons such as Abramoff and Michael Scanlon.

That, alone, should be enough probable cause to merit a wiretap on Riley. But has it been done? Is the Obama Justice Department conducting a legitimate inquiry into all sides of the Alabama bingo war? Are Obama appointees even aware of what is going on in Alabama? Or is this just another partisan witch hunt in Alabama, conducted by lingering Bush loyalists?

If the answer to that last question is yes, and we strongly suspect it is, was the wiretap on Milton McGregor and Bob Geddie illegal?

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