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Prosecutors rest in Ala gambling corruption trial

After more than seven weeks of testimony, federal prosecutors rested their case Tuesday against nine people including a casino owner and lawmakers in what prosecutors say was a scheme to buy and sell votes on a bill to legalize electronic bingo in Alabama.

Defendants will get their turn on Thursday to present their side in the trial that has rocked the State house.

Prosecutors based much of their case on wiretaps of defendants' phones and recordings made with hidden devices worn by cooperating legislators.

Prosecutor Steve Feaga has contended that casino owners attempted to buy votes to pass an amendment to legalize electronic bingo at defendant Milton McGregor's Victoryland in Macon County and Ronnie Gilley's Country Crossing among other locations. At the same time, then-Gov. Bob Riley was using an anti-gambling task force to shut down gambling halls.

The legislation passed the Senate in March 2010, then died in the House after the FBI revealed a widespread investigation into government corruption.

Some of the final testimony Tuesday concerned phone records that showed McGregor and Gilley were keeping in close touch with their lobbyists in the days leading up to the Senate vote.

FBI agent Nathan Langmark testified there were 172 phone calls during 100 days of the legislative session between phones associated with McGregor and those of his indicted lobbyist Tom Coker. He said there were 586 calls between Gilley, who has pleaded guilty in the case, and his lobbyist Jarrod Massey. Gilley and Massey both pleaded guilty.

The final evidence entered before prosecutors rested showed how McGregor was hurt financially by Riley's effort to shut down the electronic bingo games. According the federal income tax filings, McGregor personally had gross income of $28.3 million in 2009 and his business made $40.2 million. In 2010, after he had to shut many of his operations, McGregor personally lost $2.5 million and his business lost $4.8 million.

Gambling operators profited from electronic bingo machines for several years until the task force labeled them illegal slots and began closing all casinos in early 2010. Gambling operators pushed the constitutional amendment to protect their halls and allow more to open.

Arrests came in October, when a federal grand jury charged that millions in bribes were offered through campaign contributions and contracts. Defendants face several charges including conspiracy, federal program bribery and honest services mail and wire fraud.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson sent jurors home after prosecutors rested and said he would spend much of Wednesday hearing arguments from defense attorneys seeking to have charges dismissed against their clients.

Thompson indicated he would likely not drop charges against McGregor, once Alabama's largest casino owner, and most other defendants, which include four current and former lawmakers and two of state's most influential lobbyists, who worked for McGregor.

He said he wants to hear arguments about how the government says former Legislative Reference Service employee Ray Crosby was tied to the conspiracy to sell votes.

FBI forensic accountant Phillip Harrod testified that bank records show that $72,000 was paid to Crosby from the Macon County Greyhound Park between June 2008 and April 2010. Crosby was the Legislature's lead attorney in writing the gambling legislation and prosecutors say the money was paid in violation of legislative rules to influence him.

"I would like to hear what the evidence is to Mr. Crosby being part of the conspiracy," Thompson said.

He said he also wanted to hear more about how indicted former state Sen. Jim Preuitt was involved in the conspiracy.

Country Crossing lobbyist Jennifer Pouncey, who pleaded guilty, testified earlier in the trial that she offered Preuitt a $2 million campaign contribution to vote for the gambling bill, but under cross examination said he never committed to vote for the bill in exchange for the contribution. Preuitt later decided not to run for re-election.

Besides McGregor, Coker, Crosby and Preuitt, also on trial are:

— McGregor lobbyist Bob Geddie;

— Jarrell W. "Jay" Walker Jr. of Lanett, Ala., a former employee of Gilley;

— Harri Anne Smith of Slocomb, independent state senator;

— Larry P. Means of Attalla, former Democratic state senator;

— Quinton T. Ross Jr. of Montgomery, Democratic state senator.

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