Why did Country Crossing developer Ronnie Gilley plead guilty this morning in the federal Alabama-bingo prosecution? The answer, at least in part, probably can be found in a post we wrote two days ago here at Legal Schnauzer.
Our post, titled "Is Lawsuit Cash Having a Negative Impact on Progressive Politics?" focused on a federal HealthSouth lawsuit that generated more than $50 million in attorney fees. The prime Alabama lawyers who drove that case were G. Douglas Jones, of the Birmingham firm Haskell Slaughter, and Rob Riley, a Homewood-based lawyer who happens to be the son of former Republican Governor Bob Riley.
Jones, in theory, is a Democrat, while Riley has extensive ties to Bush-Republican henchmen. But the two became compadres on the HealthSouth lawsuit, which yielded substantial sums of cash for both of them. So isn't it curious that Ronnie Gilley, whose prime defense lawyer has been Doug Jones, would plead guilty in a move that seems to help the Riley clan?
How does it help the Rileys? Well, Gilley now appears set to testify against the other bingo defendants, including VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor. And it seems clear now that McGregor has been the feds' main target all along.
Why is that? McGregor was involved with an outfit called Global Trust Partners, which launched a failed attempt to establish a national lottery in Russia. Tuscaloosa entrepreneur Robert Sigler was head of Global Trust Partners, and Rob Riley has close ties to Sigler. In other words, McGregor used to do business with the Riley clan and their associates--and he probably has enough dirt on them to sink the U.S.S. Missouri.
Does it benefit the Rileys to see Milton McGregor wind up in federal prison? Yes. Did Doug Jones help his buddy, Rob Riley, by pushing Ronnie Gilley to plead guilty and agree to testify against McGregor? Our sources say the answer is yes.
Today's news reports on the Gilley plea bring some curious information. Neal Vickers, writing at examiner.com, reports that Gilley's new attorney is David Harrison, of Geneva. Vickers hints that Jones no longer is involved in case:
Of note in the pleading, a change in attorneys representing Gilley. He had been represented by attorney Doug Jones as recently as a few weeks ago during a hearing to try and get Gilley out of jail. He was there accused of trying to bribe his former lobbyist Jarrod Massey, which Gilley had denied.
The Dothan Eagle reports that Harrison negotiated the plea deal, but Jones (and two other Haskell Slaughter lawyers) remain in the case:
Harrison negotiated the terms of Gilley’s plea. Gilley’s other criminal defense attorneys, Doug Jones, Tom Butler and Amil Mumjadar of the firm Haskell and Slaughter will still be retained “for now”, according to Harrison.
Conflicts regarding the Haskell Slaughter firm remain a massive issue in the case:
The hearing was delayed more than 90 minutes due to a potential conflict of interest because Haskell and Slaughter represents co-defendant Milton McGregor in a civil suit involving McGregor’s gambling development in Macon County. U.S. Magistrate Judge Wallace Capel said that represents a potential conflict of interest and asked Gilley to understand the potential risks associated with retaining a lawyer whose firm represents other defendants in a conspiracy case. Gilley said he was aware of the conflict and is still retaining the firm.
Speaking of conflicts, U.S. Magistrate Wallace Capel continues to preside over the case even though he does not meet federal requirements to serve as a federal magistrate in Alabama. This means that every action taken before Capel, including the Gilley guilty plea, is tainted and probably could be voided. It appears that no lawyer appearing in the case has the guts to bring up the issue. Sources tell us that lawyers in the case, when questioned about Capel's status, come up with all kinds excuses to explain it away. But the truth is this: Wallace Capel never has been a member of the Alabama State Bar, and that makes him ineligible to serve as a U.S. magistrate in this state.
Today's actions raise a couple of glaring questions:
* Prosecutors reportedly have thousands of hours of conversations gleaned from federal wiretaps of pro-gambling individuals and their associates. If that evidence is so strong, why do the feds need Gilley's testimony to nail McGregor?
* Why did Ronnie Gilley, an apparently intelligent individual, pick Doug Jones as a defense lawyer? Sources tell us that Gilley has been warned about the potential cost of becoming aligned with Jones, a clear buddy to the Rileys. Jones, a former U.S. attorney, seems to have a disturbing fondness for prosecutors--the people going after his clients. Redding Pitt, a Jones confidant, hired assistant U.S. attorneys Steve Feaga and Louis Franklin when he was U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama. Sources tell us that Jones has a friendly relationship with former Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor, who now is a Bush appointee to the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Curiously, Pryor, Feaga, and Franklin all played leading roles in launching and sustaining the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman.
Speaking of Siegelman, Jones served as his defense attorney for a while. And Jones' actions in that case deserve serious scrutiny. Jones agreed to toll the statute of limitations in the Siegelman case, allowing prosecutors time to build a case they apparently didn't have. Jones also bailed out of the Siegelman case before it got to trial, similar to the way he seems to be distancing himself from Gilley now.
Is this the Doug Jones defense plan? Set up the client nice and neat for prosecutors, charge the client a ton of money, withdraw from the case and watch as client heads to federal prison, join Rob Riley for drinks and yuk it up about what has gone down?
Democrats and those with progressive leanings seem to turn to Jones when they get in trouble with the feds, which has happened a lot here in Alabama during the Bush/Riley years. Has anyone noticed that Jones' clients tend to wind up with poor outcomes. Don Siegelman, Ronnie Gilley, John Goff, Chris McNair . . . Jones has helped represent all of them. And all of them either have, or probably will, know what it's like to spend time behind federal bars.
Perhaps someone can develop a bumper sticker: "Honk if you've gone to prison with Doug Jones as your defense attorney!"
That probably would be a big seller.
Meanwhile, Ronnie Gilley should be asking himself this question: "Why did I get involved with this guy in the first place?"