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OUR VIEW: Doors closing for other bingo defendants? - Gadsden Times

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Casino developer Ronnie Gilley, arguably the second most important defendant on the Justice Department’s list, stood shackled and in jail attire before a federal judge and pleaded guilty to 11 of the 22 counts against him for conspiracy, bribery of public

officials and money laundering. The others will be dropped — and the prison sentence of 22 to 27 years he faces could be reduced — in return for his testimony in the trial of eight other defendants that’s set to start June 6.

Gilley admitted in court that he and fellow casino operator (and business associate) Milton McGregor offered millions of dollars in cash and other items to Alabama legislators to entice them to pass a constitutional amendment permitting electronic bingo.

He’s the third defendant to plead guilty in the case, joining two of his lobbyists, Jarrod Massey (who’s already serving time) and Jennifer Pouncy (who was not part of the October indictment). However, he’s the most significant, because his “flip” probably means there’s less opportunity for other defendants, such as former State Sen. Larry Means, D-Attalla, to cut similar deals.

It wouldn’t surprise us to see that door slammed, especially where the indicted legislators are concerned. Those folks certainly are due their day in court and are innocent until proven guilty, but we’re sure prosecutors would like to make examples of them as symbols of political corruption in this state.

That could change if someone can offer up more evidence against McGregor, because there’s no question who Defendant No. 1 is and whose hide federal prosecutors want most to hang on their wall.

Gilley was behind the Country Crossing development near Dothan (McGregor had an interest in it), which sought to combine country music, restaurants and bars and a gambling hall full of electronic bingo machines. It closed to avoid raids by former Gov. Bob Riley’s Task Force on Illegal Gambling.

In court, Gilley said he was naive about Montgomery politics, got involved with politicians who were “out for personal gain and to accommodate special interests” and was “engulfed” by flames he couldn’t put out.

Excuse us if our eyes remain dry. Someone who’s savvy enough to, allegedly, use disposable cellphones to make calls offering cash to legislators knows how the game is played.

It’s also a bit unseemly, not just in this case but others, to see people play the game, then turn on their “teammates” to save their own necks. Still, just like prosecutors, we accept that such deals are necessary to bring criminals to account and bring closure to cases.

And while a jury will have the final say, we think it’s past time for closure in this particularly sleazy moment in Alabama’s legal and political history.


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