Monday, July 27, 2015

Did FBI agent's extramarital affairs taint the Milton McGregor and Don Siegelman cases in Alabama?

Milton McGregor
An FBI agent who played a central role in the Alabama bingo trial and the Don Siegelman prosecution was conducting extramarital affairs with court personnel during both cases, according to a report yesterday from the Montgomery Advertister.

Agent Keith Baker's affair with a court reporter became known during the 2011 bingo trial, where VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor was among several high-profile defendants. At the same time, an assistant U.S. attorney told federal judge Myron Thompson that Baker had carried on "an inappropriate relationship with a female courtroom deputy" during the Siegelman trial in 2006.

The Advertiser obtained records that show more than 8,000 text messages sent and received by Baker during the bingo investigation are missing from his phone and from backup computer servers at FBI headquarters in Virginia. Defendants were able to retrieve a few messages from Baker's phone, and one of them suggested the FBI agent had communicated with Governor Bob Riley in late 2010.

The new revelations probably explain Baker's mysterious absences from the courtroom during key junctures in the bingo trial. They also add to the substantial string of stories that raise questions about Baker's character. For example, the Montgomery Independent reported that Baker and another FBI agent harassed former deputy attorney general Bob Caviness in the week's leading to Caviness' suicide in November 2010--all because the agents mistakenly suspected Caviness was trying to help McGregor during the bingo probe.

Does that sound like Baker took an objective approach to his investigative work? No, it does not. Is it possible that Baker violated the due process rights of McGregor and other defendants, who supposedly are guaranteed a disinterested prosecution team under the U.S. Constitution? Yes, it is.

Baker now works as an investigator in the Alabama Attorney General's Office. Both Baker and the AG's office declined interview requests, the Advertiser's Josh Moon reports.

How did all of this come to light? Moon explains:

Details of Baker’s affair and an alleged cover-up are contained in thousands of pages of previously-sealed motions, orders and transcripts from closed hearings and in-chambers conferences, all of which were recently made public when a federal judge granted the Montgomery Advertiser’s motion to unseal those records. The Advertiser filed that motion last September after learning of the sealed records during its reporting on the history of gambling in Alabama.

Those records highlight a three-month-long fight — a sort of secret trial-within-a-trial — between prosecutors and the team of defense attorneys, who were representing the nine defendants in the case, over whether to allow Baker to be questioned in open court about the affair.

Here are a few of the many questions raised by Moon's report:

* The two bingo trials resulted in zero convictions, and one legal analyst called the outcome "one of the most remarkable setbacks nationally" for federal prosecutors in decades. But three defendants--Ronnie Gilley, Jarrod Massey, and Jennifer Pouncy--pleaded guilty. In light of the Baker revelations, should the court review those guilty pleas?

* The Siegelman trial resulted in convictions for the former governor and codefendant Richard Scrushy, former CEO of HealthSouth. Should those convictions now be reviewed, were they possibly tainted by Keith Baker's extracurricular activities?

* Was there, in fact, an attempt to cover up Baker's misdeeds? If so, who was involved, and what form did the cover-up take?

* Does the Baker text message that references a conversation with Bob Riley confirm what many have believed all along--that the former governor played a major role in pushing for the bingo prosecution?

* Can things get any worse for Attorney General Luther Strange? In recent months, he has forced out assistant AG Sonny Reagan and investigator Gene Sisson for leaking grand jury information related to the investigation of House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) in Lee County. Now, it looks like another member of the AG's staff has a history of engaging in unethical activities.

* What if the FBI retrieves all of the messages from Baker's phone, and they reveal that the bingo prosecution was a sham from the outset? Should the U.S. Justice Department conduct an investigation of phones and computers used by all government investigators and prosecutors during the case? Should a similar investigation be conducted related to the Siegelman case? What if Keith Baker represents the tip of a massive iceberg of corruption, which originated when George W. Bush officials were in charge of the DOJ?

Are the sexual escapades of a government investigator important in the context of a federal investigation and trial? This, from Josh Moon's report, helps answer that question:

After learning of Baker’s transgressions — and then being told by Assistant U.S. Attorney Louis Franklin that Baker also had an inappropriate relationship with a female courtroom deputy during former Gov. Don Siegelman’s trial — Thompson let his displeasure be known.

“It is a very serious matter ... and it does compromise the proceedings, at least in appearance, and can compromise it in substance,” Thompson said from the bench during one of the closed hearings. “If a witness was having an affair with my court reporter, I’ll tell you right now, that court reporter would not be working for me tomorrow. Now that’s how serious it is.

“And that’s in a courtroom. A grand jury proceeding is just so serious, because there’s no judge presiding. The integrity is just — it’s paramount.”

As for the missing text messages, Thompson allowed an FBI information-technology expert to be questioned by both sides in a closed hearing:

Jason Amos, then an IT specialist for the FBI, testified that FBI-issued cell phones are backed up by a server, which meant that any text message Baker sent or received on his FBI Blackberry should have also been duplicated and stored at FBI headquarters.

Baker testified that when he received the request to provide his text messages for the times related to his investigation, he realized they were gone. A check on the FBI servers revealed the copies were also missing for that period of time.

Baker’s more than 8,000 text messages were the only ones Amos said he could say for certain were missing from any FBI agent in the country, although he added he wouldn’t necessarily know of missing messages unless asked to pull records for specific agents. While messages did sometimes go missing, Amos said the other agents he checked during that span experienced no issues and that there had been no changes to the system that would have prompted or corrected an issue with the servers.

The FBI was able to retrieve time stamps on the missing messages, and they revealed that some of the missing messages went to and from former Sen. Scott Beason, who was a government witness in the case.

Of the few messages that were retrieved, what about the one that referred to Bob Riley?

Despite the missing messages, the defendants were able to get some messages from Baker’s phone. Of the 10 messages Thompson allowed into the record, one exchange in particular stood out to the pro-gaming faction.

On Nov. 6, 2010, Baker messaged the court reporter: “Just talked to Gov Riley,” he said.

“You love it,” she replied. Then, four minutes later: “Hope you are having fun.”

“I’m having fun,” Baker replied.

McGregor’s attorneys, who never got an opportunity to question Baker about the message, believe it could be the smoking gun link tying the former governor to the investigation. But government attorneys denied that, saying the text was an innocent, tongue-in-cheek joke by Baker, who had been on the field at Auburn’s homecoming football game and shook hands with Riley at one point.

For his part, Riley has denied any involvement in the case, and during an interview with the Advertiser last year, Riley said the allegations “simply are not true.”

All of this raises more than just ethical questions for Alabama taxpayers; it also raises concerns about finances. According to Moon, reports from various sources show the state has spent more than $9 million on an anti-gambling crusade that Riley launched in 2008, and Strange continued upon his election in 2010.

Now, it looks like the whole process might have been tainted with corruption.


Anonymous said...

Did Baker realize these were criminal trials or does he consider a courtroom just to be an excellent place to try out his latest pick-up lines?

Anonymous said...

Isn't Baker the a-hole who went to McGregor's house for the arrest in bingo case and claimed McGregor was threatening him by saying, "You're making the biggest mistake of your life"? What was an FBI agent doing at McGregor's house that morning anyway? Don't U.S. marshals do those kinds of things.

legalschnauzer said...

Yes, Baker was that a-hole, @9:10. Like you, I'm not sure why an FBI investigator was present for the arrest. Here is a post I wrote about the Baker-McGregor episode, among other things:

Starsky said...

Are we supposed to believe that an "investigator" who doesn't have the discipline to keep it zipped once in a while is going to have the discipline to conduct a legitimate criminal investigation? Where did they get this goober, and why do idiots like Luther Strange keep hiring him?

Anonymous said...

Glad you raised the Gilley, Massey, and Pouncy guilty pleas. Those need to be reviewed. If the whole bingo investigation is proven to be a sham, could the defendants seek compensation for legal expenses, emotional distress, etc.?

legalschnauzer said...

That's a real good question, @9:32, about compensation for defendants who maybe were forced to endure a sham prosecution. Not sure about the answer. Prosecutors generally enjoy immunity from suit. But the FBI is an investigative agency, and I'm not sure it or its agents are protected from suit. If you can sue the FBI, and I'm not sure you can, that's the direction I would go. They should be held accountable for negligent hiring, supervision, etc. Would be interesting to see if Keith Baker could be sued in his individual capacity. If so, he might be looking at financial ruin.

Chuckles said...

Has anyone seen a photo of this Keith Baker? Is he a cross between Brad Pitt, Paul Newman, and Clark Gable? Or are there just a lot of desperate women out there?

Anonymous said...

Has anybody checked Keith Baker for STDs? He must have the whole "shooting match."

Anonymous said...

Isn't it clear by now that Luther Strange is a horrible judge of character? How many lying, cheating con men can one AG hire? Hard to believe the people of Alabama elected this guy, and then re-elected him. We get what we deserve?

Anonymous said...

I don't think Luther tries to hire competent people of good character. He tries to hire right-wing lackeys, who will follow his agenda. Luther never has been interested in being a real AG. Hell, he wasn't even interested in being a real lawyer. He just wants whatever position--governor, U.S. senator, whatever--that will, he thinks, look the best to the public. He's a real big guy, with a real small sense of himself.

Tee Hee said...

You don't have to worry about STDs with Keith Baker, @10:31. He always carries a 12-pack of condoms whenever he goes to a courthouse, with a backup 12-pack just in case. He knows women can't resist him, so he always takes precautions. Even with his phone, he practices "safe text."

Anonymous said...

Why were these documents turned over fairly quickly, while the DOJ still can't figure out a way to turn over documents on Leura Canary's recusal?

Kimodo said...

Myron Thompson thinks there is supposed to be integrity in the court process? Where did he get that idea? Nobody believes that anymore, do they?

Mason said...

I would like to know how Keith Baker and his FBI buddy harassed Bob Caviness. Were they really concerned that Caviness might be helping Milton McGregor or were they concerned that Caviness was looking into the death of his friend, Ralph Stacy, at BCA headquarters? If Baker harassed Caviness to the point that he committed suicide, wouldn't the Caviness family have a wrongful-death lawsuit against Baker and the FBI?

Anonymous said...

Did Keith Baker commit perjury during the bingo case. According to this article by Bob Martin, it sure looks like it:

Here is the key section of the article:

"7. AT THE HEARING ON OCT. 4 you called to the stand Keith Baker, one of the FBI agents who arrested Mr. McGregor and who alleges that Mr. McGregor made a comment to him that he (Mr. Baker) was making the biggest mistake of his life because Mr. McGregor believed himself to be innocent.

8. THE FBI AGENT, Mr. Baker, in his testimony on Page 20 of the transcript was asked by you: "Did Mr. McGregor know who you were prior to your appearing at his home?" Mr. Baker replied: "Not to my knowledge."

9. ON PAGE 32 OF the transcript Mr. Franklin asks Mr. Baker this question: "Do you know how Mr. McGregor knows you?" Mr. Baker's answer was: "I have an idea. Yes sir." Then Mr. Franklin asks him to share his knowledge about that with the court. Mr. Baker's answer as to how Mr. McGregor knows him was: "There was an investigation I was involved in that centered around Mr. McGregor prior to this one."

10. SO AN FBI AGENT testifies before you first that he did not believe Mr. McGregor knew who he was prior to the arrest at Mr. McGregor's home, then later on the same day testifies that Mr. McGregor did know who he was and cited the reason.

Isn't such conflicting testimony called perjury Judge Moorer, and if so,why wasn't Mr. Baker's testimony at least deemed suspect?"

legalschnauzer said...

The deaths of Ralph Stacy and Bob Caviness still stink to high heaven, @5:26, and you ask a number of good questions about them. Keith Baker certainly was connected to one of them, and it would be interesting to see him questioned under oath about the other.

What might all of Baker's text messages and e-mails say about his knowledge of these two highly suspicious deaths?

Anonymous said...

Rickey Stokes News had some interesting information about Keith Baker in a post from February 2012:

"However, the statement made in open court by Federal Judge Myron Thompson, the disappearance of Keith Baker, then the rumors that circulated through the federal courthouse, made media start looking.

The Federal Grand Jury returned their findings October 1, 2010. Those findings were made public October 4, 2010.

The FBI Lead Investigator Keith Baker’s wife filed for a divorce on November 5, 2010 at 3:01 PM in Elmore County Alabama. The case number is 29-DR-2010-900213.00. Mrs. Baker was represented by Montgomery Attorney Floyd Minor.

In the divorce filings under the Motion For Status Quo Order, Mrs. Baker alleges “that on October 12, 2010, the husband vacated the marital residence and has been living elsewhere since that time”.

The filings then change.

On November 17, 2010 the attorney for Mrs. Baker, Floyd Minor, withdraws his representation of Mrs. Baker.

On December 2, 2010 Montgomery Attorney Judy Barganier enters her appearance for Mrs. Baker and filed a motion to dismiss the divorce.

Attorney Judy Barganier is married to Alabama Bureau of Investigation Agent Joe Herman, which is assigned to the Federal Bingo case and is a partner of FBI Agent Keith Baker.

Baker’s partner, ABI Agent Joe Herman, now his wife who is an attorney, Judy Barganier, is representing Keith Baker’s wife. That does not pass the smell test of this statement “ public officials who undermine the public’s trust and engage in unethical and corrupt practice” test.

Then place that with what Federal Judge Myron Thompson said in open court, the matter of Keith Baker and the Grand Jury had to be taken up.

After the matter is taken up, Baker is removed from the courtroom, and is never called to testify."

Here's the post:

Anonymous said...

Oh, I left out the best part of the Rickey Stokes article:

"The media rumors are, Baker was having an affair with the court reporter of the Grand Jury in this case. The rumors are the court reporter was text messaging Grand Jury information to FBI Agent Keith Baker. Baker was then text messaging this information to Governor Bob Riley.

Grand Jury testimony is secret and not to be revealed.

That is why the fight to keep Bob Riley from testifying in this case."

legalschnauzer said...

Great research, @5:44. We now know the "media rumor" about Baker and court reporter is true.

Is the rest of it true? If the court reporter (who needs to be identified) was texting grand jury info to Baker, and he was sending it on to Bob Riley . . . we're talking serious criminality here.

Thanks for alerting my audience to the Rickey Stokes piece. I hope readers will check it out.

Stoney Huff said...

"The bingo episode also spawned widespread grumbling that Leura Canary, the (Bush appointed) United States Attorney when the scandal first bubbled up nearly two years ago, was out to embarrass the state’s Democrats."
Mission accomplished anyways, even having to RESIGN in the middle of the persecution no biggy:
Democrats SMEARED, Republicans lock up the state of Alabama.

Unknown said...

Could it be possible that Leura Canary's emails and text messages are erased from the governments files regarding the Siegelman case? Thus, could this be a reason why the government is bulking at the request for the files. It would be highly suspicious and terribly embarrassing if the files of such an important case would come up missing. Just something to think about!