Steve Feaga and Louis Franklin
If the people who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 were sending one central message, it probably went something like this: "Whatever you do, don't act like George W. Bush."
Those voters must feel like they've been stabbed in the back after recent events in Alabama. The Obama Department of Justice arrested 11 individuals on Monday in a gambling-related investigation that has been heavy handed, misguided, politically motivated, and strategically timed to affect an election--all of the attributes we came to expect from the Bush DOJ.
In fact, the Obama operation has striking similarities to the Don Siegelman case, the best-known political prosecution of the Bush era.
One possible difference: The Birmingham News is showing signs of actually practicing some real journalism on the bingo story. More on that in a moment.
Consider just a few obvious similarities between the two cases:
* Both originated in the Middle District of Alabama;
* Both originated under the direction of U.S. attorney Leura Canary, a Bush appointee who inexplicably has remained in officer under Obama;
* Louis Franklin and Stephen Feaga, two of Canary's prime henchmen, have been involved in both cases;
* The U.S. Public Integrity Section, riddled with corruption of its own, has been involved in both cases.
The most intriguing connection, however, comes from the recurring role of Montgomery-based FBI agent Keith Baker. In the Siegelman case, Baker was like Forrest Gump with a badge, showing up in all sorts of places, at all sorts of times. He already has a starring role in the bingo case.
Perhaps the most interesting moment of Monday's arrests came when FBI agents appeared at the home of VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor. A security guard told agents that he thought McGregor was not home, but the agents entered the house, found McGregor, and informed him that he was being arrested.
Surprisingly, that information did not put McGregor into a swell mood, and he reportedly informed one of the agents that he was "making the biggest mistake of his life." That agent was Keith Baker.
You might think that an FBI agent would be used to such comments, especially from people who might have reason to believe they have committed no crime. But Baker apparently considered it a threat, and that's why McGregor now is subject to electronic monitoring. (Memo to Baker: If you are that sensitive to a comment from a 70-year-old grandfather being placed under arrest, perhaps you should find another line of work.)
According to The Birmingham News, McGregor might have had special reason to be unhappy about seeing Baker:
Baker testified that he believed McGregor knew him from a previous investigation. Baker said McGregor was the focus of a murder-for-hire investigation involving McGregor and his then son-in-law, Todd Brown.
McGregor's lawyer, Joe Espy, said Brown is involved in a domestic dispute with his ex-wife, McGregor's daughter.
Espy said McGregor did not threaten the agents this morning.
Let's see if we understand this: Of all the FBI agents on the planet, the DOJ had to send one to McGregor's house who he already had reason to dislike and perhaps distrust? That's positively Bushian. And we're supposed to wonder why McGregor might have mouthed off in a mild fashion?
You might think the Obama DOJ would want to distance itself from anything connected to the Siegelman case. But you would be wrong. Consider the many roles Baker played in that fiasco:
* He was the FBI agent that one juror, the one known as "Flipper," reportedly found attractive and asked if he was married;
* He was one of the FBI agents present for numerous meetings with key prosecution witness Nick Bailey. In a sworn statement, Bailey later said that Baker frequently took notes in those meetings, but published reports indicate those notes and others were never turned over to the defense, as required by law;
* He was the FBI agent who, according to DOJ whistleblower Tamarah Grimes, acknowledged that prosecutor Feaga frequently got creative with facts. As we reported in an earlier post:
Grimes said she was not the only person concerned about prosecutors’ creative approach to the facts of the case:
"I recall one of the investigators, FBI agent Keith Baker, commented on the conduct by saying, 'There is truth, there are facts, and then there are “Feaga facts.'
So we have Baker, now on the bingo case, again working with a prosecutor who he has acknowledged is unethical.
Baker already has been involved in questionable conduct connected to lobbyist Jarrod Massey, one of the 11 people arrested on Monday. Brett Bloomston and Joseph Basgier, Massey's attorneys, filed a complaint with the DOJ back in April about threats and harassment against their client. Keith Baker was one subject of their complaint. (See full letter below.)
The lawyers allege that Baker and others pressured Massey to "cooperate" in order to "save [your] butt." The lawyers also allege that Baker and others made veiled threats regarding Massey's wife and two children.
Anyone who has followed the Siegelman case closely is familiar with these kinds of tactics. But those happened on George W. Bush's watch. This is happening on Barack Obama's watch.
As for The Birmingham News, it (shockingly) showed signs of practicing objective journalism on the bingo story. Reporter Charles Dean identifies the three cooperating individuals who were identified in the indictment as "Legislator 1" (Benjamin Lewis, of Dothan), "Legislator 2" (Scott Beason, of Gardendale). and "Legislator 3" (Barry Mask, of Wetumpka). All are Republicans.
The News reports that Lewis could be a problem for prosecutors because his opposition to bingo and role in the investigation apparently helped land him a judicial appointment from Gov. Bob Riley. Writes Dean:
Lewis is of special interest to defense lawyers, who believe he is exhibit 1 in their contention that Monday's indictments smack of partisan politics, and that, if the feds believe McGregor and Gilley offered money and jobs for a yes vote on gambling, then Riley is no less guilty because he did the same for Lewis.
Less than two months after he appeared before a federal grand jury investigating the vote-buying allegations, Lewis was appointed to a district judgeship in Houston County by Riley.
Did the Obama DOJ investigate the connections between Lewis and Riley? Did the FBI conduct wiretaps or check computer records to see if Lewis was offered a quid pro quo? Did the FBI investigate any of the legislators who voted no on electronic bingo and what they might have been offered in exchange for their votes?
The answer to all of those questions appears to be no. And that raises serious constitutional issues that defense lawyers are sure to raise. And it raises enormous questions about the fundamental integrity of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Again, this sounds an awful lot like the Siegelman case. But it's happening on Barack Obama's watch.
And that's a disgrace.
Brett Bloomston Letter