FBI conducting corruption probe in Alabama Senate

MONTGOMERY -- Federal investigators told legislative leaders Thursday they are investigating corruption revolving around gambling and the bingo bill passed by the Senate earlier this week.

Leaders of the Alabama House of Representatives and Senate said U.S. attorneys and an FBI agent met with them to tell them about the probe as a courtesy and to request their cooperation.

Legislators said they were given scant details about the status of the investigation other than that the focus was on bingo.

"They were very vague but they said there was substantial evidence of public corruption on the bingo issue," said Senate Minority Leader Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills. Waggoner said the federal officials told the lawmakers the investigation "was not a fishing expedition." House Minority Leader, Rep. Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, said most of the lawmakers in the room pledged to cooperate with the investigation, and a big part of that cooperation is informing lawmakers to come forward and report anything out of the ordinary related to bingo legislation.

Hubbard did that with House Republicans late Thursday, calling them into a meeting. "I told them they had a duty and obligation if they knew anything that might relate to this investigation to step forward now," Hubbard said.

Hubbard said he had no first-hand information to share with the federal officials, but he said Thursday's meeting was chilling.

"They scared the crap out of me, and I know I haven't done anything wrong," Hubbard said.

Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, said he also met with members of the legislative black caucus Thursday and told them to be extremely careful about discussing campaign contributions with lobbyists for gambling interests.

"I told them under no condition should they be discussing bingo and money together, don't do it, don't joke about it because we're all being watched," Rogers said. "I don't know what all is about to happen around here but you get the feeling that all hell is about to break loose."

The speaker of the House, the lieutenant governor and the majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate attended the 30-minute meeting with an FBI agent and prosecutors from the Department of Justice's Public Integrity Section and the Middle District of Alabama, legislators said. Speaker of the House Seth Hammett, D-Andalusia, and House Majority Leader Ken Guin, D-Carbon Hill, declined to discuss the meeting Senate Majority Leader Zeb Little, D-Cullman, who was in the meeting with federal investigators, said they "informed us there was an ongoing investigation regarding public corruption."

"They did acknowledge that it was about the bingo bill, but there were no specifics," Little said.

But Little said he was afraid that "their strings are being pulled" by Gov. Bob Riley or other opponents of the legislation.

The Senate on a 21-13 vote Tuesday approved the bill that, if also OK'd by the House, would let voters go to the polls in November to decide whether to allow electronic bingo. Unlike other bills before it, the version approved this week would not dictate the locations of bingo casinos. It would establish a minimum 25 percent tax on bingo revenues and establish a gaming commission but leave legislators to decide later most other details of how gambling would work.

Little said the investigation would scare legislators who had accepted campaign contributions from anyone interested in the bill. "This is meant to create a news story to put a chilling effect on the legislative process and ultimately deny the people of Alabama the right to vote on this issue," Little said.

Little said he told investigators "if I know of any criminal conduct I'll let you know, but if anybody is giving you false information, that's a crime too and they should be prosecuted."

Hubbard, who also was in the meeting and is an opponent of the bingo bill, said investigators said in the meeting that politics was not involved in the investigation.

"Zeb essentially accused the agents and the U.S. attorney's office of politics and I tell you that didn't go over so well," Hubbard said. "The people in that room informed Little that this was an FBI matter and had absolutely noting to do with state politics or bingo. In fact, they said they could care less about whether the bill passed or didn't, that their concern was how it passed and it was clear to everybody in that room that how it passed had a lot to do with corrupting influences."

Five Senate Democrats, including Little, also issued a statement blaming Riley. "We believe this is a blatant attempt to undercut the people's right to vote on the bingo issue, something that a large majority of citizens support, and to ensure the death of this legislation. This is about intimidation and killing bingo. The timing proves it," said the joint statement issued by Little, Senate President Pro Tempore Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham; Senate Rules Chairman Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe; Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma; and Sen. Roger Bedford, D- Russellville, who is the sponsor of the bingo legislation.

Riley's office in a statement this afternoon said he "had nothing to do with the investigation."

"Governor Riley was not even aware this meeting was taking place," the statement said.

The investigation has been rumored for weeks at the Alabama State House.

"Everybody knows they are here," Rogers said.

Little also said some legislators had been interviewed by agents from the Alabama Bureau of Investigation.

(Copyright- The Birmingham News)

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  • by rodsmith on Apr 6, 2010 at 11:28 PM
    sorry joey but the florida lottery hadnt' been in place more than a few years before a new governor and a bunch of crooked politicians changed the law and allowed themselves to move the money that was setup to go to schools to instead be put into the genral fund where they had better access to steal it.
  • by Jay Bea Location: Dothan on Apr 6, 2010 at 09:35 PM
    Joey Thanks for your honesty and in a perfect world your suggestion would be the way to go .... But we are not in that perfect world... We are under the dictatorship of one of the most corrupt Governor this state has ever seen ... He can lie with a straight face and come across like a Country Preacher... I want and I desire the right to vote on anything I believe that will make it better on our Old people and Schools and medical care for the needy ... I think e-bingo at least offers us a chance for that without taxing all of us into oblivion ....
  • by Betty Bigbee Location: Dothan on Apr 5, 2010 at 08:16 PM
    Is strong armed task master Tyson hiding out in his cave. I haven't heard his name mentioned in a week.
  • by Joey Location: dothan on Apr 5, 2010 at 07:34 PM
    Jay Bea we just have to take the schools back to where they used to be. Pray and say the pledge of allegiance first thing in the morning. Put a board on their butts early and often when they misbehave. Get rid of all the staff psychologists and almost all of the administrators. Prioritize and simplify. Oh yea, stop taking money from the federal goverment for state and local things such as roads, schools, water treatment, etc. Yea it's a lot of money they give out but with all the red tape and politically correct things they mandate when you take that money it's not worth it. We have more sense here in the state of Alabama than they do in Washington.
  • by Jay Bea Location: Dothan on Apr 5, 2010 at 01:15 PM
    Joey your point is well taken ..... I don't think Bingo will save Alabama from itself, and i do know that Florida is having some shortfalls in their Schools and other state funded programs ..... But i have seen nothing to indicate that Florida was laying off Teachers and School employees anywhere near the layoffs in Alabama, specifically Montgomery (600 ), Birmingham (800 ), even as close as Geneva County (30 ) and Houston County (40 ).... There are many more layoffs in the State to go along with this grouping ... So this means we will have to have a mandated tax increase, or have a bingo tax to substitute ... The money got to come from somewhere or, we won't have any Teachers left to teach... Unless you have another solutions you would like to post on here that we could all get behind....
  • by J Location: Bonifee on Apr 5, 2010 at 11:15 AM
    Joey, the State of Fl. would have the money to pay and support education if our greedy lawmakers would keep their **** hands off the lottery money. They have raided every fund they can find to waste more money on programs that we don't need, but that is what politicians do.
  • by Joey Location: dothan on Apr 5, 2010 at 07:15 AM
    Those of you who want bingo to pay for our schools take a look at Florida which has had the lottery for years to pay for their schools. They still have budget shortfalls. Gambling is not the answer. Anyone who wants to support our schools go to the schools and give them your money. I doubt they will stop you. If you want to gamble because you want to gamble be honest about it.
  • by rodsmith on Apr 3, 2010 at 11:25 PM
    no offence brenda, daniel, and candice but nazi riley is a criminal of the highest order. IF anyone needs to be investigated NOW it is him. THAT'S where they need to start and it's a pity the senate didn't have the guts to inform the FIB that UNTIL they took care of that dont' bother to come back. It's an eveven bigger pity those idiots at the Alabama Supreme Court cant' render a PLAIN simple decision instead of all this back and forth. i's pretty simple..IS ELECTRONIC BINGO legal IF a country or state admendmetn says it is? if it's not this 2 years of stupidty is OVER. If it is then the lawsuits against Nazi Riley and his goon squad can begin.
  • by GC Location: Enterprise on Apr 3, 2010 at 10:44 AM
    The people at Country Crossing are some of the nicest people you could ever meet. If there is any corruption, Riley started with his cronie bullheaded Tyson.
  • by Candace Location: Dothan on Apr 3, 2010 at 08:23 AM
    If you read the bill...it isn't a straight up and down vote for LEGAL bingo. It's all about the those who want to use the people of AL and pretend they give a crap about the jobs. Anyone who is involved who is crooked should be punished. And I agree totally Brenda!
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