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Alabama casino owner pleads guilty to vote buying - BusinessWeek

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Country Crossing casino developer Ronnie Gilley became the third person to plead guilty in Alabama's gambling corruption probe and admitted Friday that he worked with another indicted casino owner to offer millions to legislators to pass pro-gambling


When Gilley walked into federal court shortly before 7 a.m. Friday, the stylish suits he used to wear and the country music stars that used to accompany him to the Legislature were gone. Instead, he stood before a federal judge in an orange jail outfit with his hands cuffed to a chain around his waist. His dress shoes were replaced by jail-issued plastic sandals.

"I'm sorry. I'm wrong, and my plea is guilty," Gilley told U.S. Magistrate Judge Wallace Capel Jr.

Under a plea deal reached with prosecutors, he could be looking at more than 21 years in prison when he is sentenced Nov. 15.

Gilley's lobbyists, Jarrod Massey and Jennifer Pouncy, pleaded guilty earlier to offering millions in bribes for their client. Despite their pleas, Gilley had persisted in proclaiming his innocence until the judge recently refused to toss out information obtained through FBI wiretaps on the phones of Gilley and indicted VictoryLand casino owner Milton McGregor, who had a financial interest in Country Crossing.

Gilley's Country Crossing in Dothan and McGregor's VictoryLand in Shorter, 15 miles east of Montgomery, once attracted huge crowds by advertising electronic bingo machines that had flashing lights and graphics like slot machines. The casinos closed last year to prevent raids by the governor's gambling task force, which called the games illegal slot machines.

The two casino owners tried to get the Legislature to pass a constitutional amendment last spring that would allow the games to resume, but the bill died in April 2010 when the FBI revealed it was investigating allegations of corruption. Gilley and McGregor were arrested in October along with four present and former legislators and several casino lobbyists.

In his signed plea, Gilley admitted, "The defendant and McGregor, and the lobbyists and other individuals working for them, gave, offered and agreed to give money and other things of value worth millions of dollars to members of the Alabama Legislature in return" for voting for the gambling legislation.

He pleaded to half of the 22 counts against him: one of conspiracy, six of bribery involving public officials and four of money laundering by using political action committees and other contributors to hide the payment of money.

Gilley admitted his illegal acts involved the four present and former legislators charged in the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney General Lanny Breuer said Gilley's guilty plea showed he thought votes could be bought and sold. "He participated in a wide-ranging scheme to bribe state legislators into supporting a law that would fatten his wallet," Breuer said.

McGregor's attorney, Joe Espy, said his client looks forward to demonstrating his innocence when he goes on trial June 6 with eight other defendants. He said federal prosecutors took advantage of Gilley to get a guilty plea because he was in jail, out of money and dealing with a sick family member.

"This does not affect Mr. McGregor," Espy said.

Attorneys for other defendants reiterated their plans to fight the charges.

Lewis Gillis, attorney for indicated Sen. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery, said the plea agreement did not show any direct contact with Gilley. "Senator Ross is not guilty," Lewis said.

Gilley, a former real estate developer, built Country Crossing, a made-from-scratch small gambling town, on the outskirts of Dothan in 2009. It had restaurants, bars and other attractions named for country music stars that helped promote the gambling destination, including George Jones, Randy Owen, Darryl Worley and John Anderson. They often accompanied him to the Legislature to push for the pro-gambling legislation because the main attraction at Country Crossing was a huge barn-like structure filled with gambling machines.

Gilley told the judge that he was naive about politics when he started making plans for Country Crossing.

But he said he soon found politicians were "out for personal gain and to accommodate special interests."

Gilley said he persisted in developing Country Crossing and got caught up in corruption despite his best intentions.

"The closer I got to the flames, it seems I became engulfed by the fire instead of putting it out," he said.

Gilley, 46, had been the only one of the remaining defendants in jail, but the judge gave him a 24-hour pass Friday so he could be with his son, Dexter, who had surgery.

He could receive a five-year sentence and $250,000 fine on the conspiracy charge, a 10-year sentence and $250,000 fine on each bribery charge, and a 20-year sentence and $500,000 fine on each money laundering charge.

His plea agreement calls for him to forfeit $200,000 and it provides a range of sentences from 21 years 10 months to 27 years and three months. His sentence could be less if he cooperates fully, including testifying against his co-defendants in June.


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