|Jessica Garrison and Luther Strange
Jessica Medeiros Garrison and her former husband, Tuscaloosa city councilman Lee Garrison, are partners with Erik Davis Harp in Margaritaville, LLC. Records from the Alabama Secretary of State's office show the company was formed in 2004 and is engaged in the business of real estate. The firm has a registered office street address of 1201 Greensboro, Ave., Tuscaloosa, AL, 35401.
Harp was among 30 people indicted in October 2009 in connection with what one press outlet called "a gambling ring with ties to organized crime." Harp was 36 years old at the time of the indictment, and his address was listed as Las Vegas, Nevada. But his roots are in Tuscaloosa, and he apparently met the Garrisons while all three attended the University of Alabama. (A number of press reports about the gambling probe misspell Harp's first name as "Eric".)
Jessica Garrison has engaged in a long-running extramarital affair with Luther Strange and guided his 2010 campaign to victory on a staunch anti-gambling platform. Since his election, Strange has authorized raids that shut down electronic-bingo facilities at VictoryLand in Macon County and Center Stage Alabama in Houston County.
Lee Garrison has served on the Tuscaloosa City Council since 1997 but is giving up that seat to run for chair of the Tuscaloosa City School Board in the August 27 municipal elections.
We are not aware of Lee Garrison taking a public stance on gambling one way or another. But Jessica Garrison has been a vocal critic of gambling, aggressively attacking former Attorney General Troy King on the issue. That makes her connections to Erik Davis Harp particularly surprising--and some might say outlandishly hypocritical.
Was Harp involved in a small-time illegal gambling operation? Not exactly. Authorities in Queens, New York, led a 38-month investigation called "Operation Betting It All" and found the ring generated $20 million a month.
Was Harp a small-time player in the operation? The answer, again, is no. Authorities say he and Joseph J. Fafone, of Farmington, New York, oversaw the entire operation. From an October 22, 2009, report at MPNnow.com, of Canandaigua, New York:
Joseph J. Fafone, 48, of Pheasants Crossing in Farmington, was apprehended Tuesday at Rochester International Airport. Fafone, who officials say was bound for Panama, had roughly $24,000 in cash with him when he was arrested, according to Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown.
The defendants are charged with enterprise corruption — a violation of the state’s Organized Crime Control Act — as well as money laundering, promoting gambling and conspiracy.
Authorities say a sports gambling operation took in more than $20 million per month, which was "diverted to more insidious criminal enterprises" linked to both the Gambino and Genovese crime families.
The story never mentions an Alabama connection. But it is there, with Erik Davis Harp's name front and center:
The 38-month investigation was known as “Operation Betting It All.” The alleged sports gambling ring operated on Web sites including BetAllSportsHere.com, BetMSG.com and BetOnline.com. While the ring was run in New York City, the Web sites' computer servers were based in Panama.
Fafone and Eric Davis Harp, 36, of Las Vegas allegedly oversaw the entire operation, Brown said.
Louis P. Lippa Jr., 61, of Great Wood Court in Fairport, and David Valerio, 61, of Meriden Street in Rochester, are two of nine alleged money collectors for the ring.
Of the others charged, 17 were arrested in Queens, and nine were arrested in upstate New York, Florida, Nevada and Illinois. Three others are currently being sought. More than $3 million in cash has been seized.
How serious is this matter? A law-enforcement official in New York provides perspective:
"Gambling proceeds [are] the fuel that drives organized crime," said New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly. "The staggering amount of money in this case demonstrates just that. In this instance, however, the bookies ran out of luck."
Here is additional perspective that hits close to home for those of us who live in Alabama. Erik Davis Harp is from Tuscaloosa, and he was a kingpin in an illegal gambling operation that generated $20 million a month. Harp has a documented business history with Jessica Medieros Garrison, who helped Luther Strange get elected as Alabama's chief law-enforcement officer on a staunch anti-gambling platform. Strange has acted on his supposed convictions by causing two electronic-bingo facilities to be closed.
The bottom line? A clear path can be drawn from Erik Davis Harp to Jessica Garrison (and Lee Garrison) to Luther Strange. That should raise questions about Lee Garrison's suitability for a spot on the Tuscaloosa School Board. And it should raise extremely serious questions about Luther Strange, Jessica Garrison, and their close associates . . . who have ridden to power on claims that they are morally opposed to gambling.