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June corruption trial nears in Montgomery; gambling bosses, locales still making newscomment (0)

May 19, 2011

By Sondra Washington

It’s house arrest and limited travel for Ronnie Gilley, owner of Country Crossing casino in Dothan. After recently pleading guilty to 11 counts of conspiracy, bribery and money laundering for his role in an Alabama Statehouse vote-buying scheme, Gilley is awaiting his November sentencing hearing from home instead of the Montgomery jail cell he has been confined to since February.

According to a U.S. Department of Justice press release, Gilley admitted to offering “things of value” worth millions of dollars to legislators in exchange for pro-gambling votes on proposed legislation.

“Ronald (Ronnie) Gilley thought votes could be bought and sold in Alabama,” Lanny A. Breuer, assistant attorney general for the criminal division, said in the release. “He participated in a wide-ranging scheme to bribe state legislators into supporting a law that would fatten his wallet. But he, like his co-conspirators, was stopped in his tracks. Now Mr. Gilley must face the consequences of his corruption.”

Of the case’s original 11 defendants, most — including current and former legislators and lobbyists — are awaiting the June 6 trial date to determine their fates.

Gilley’s Country Crossing business partner and co-defendant, gambling magnate Milton McGregor, may not be concerned about the implications of Gilley’s guilty plea, according to his attorney, but he has other things about which to worry.

According to The Associated Press, McGregor’s VictoryLand casino in Shorter, which has been closed since 2010 to avoid a law enforcement raid, did not pay the $1.3 million of property taxes it owes state and local governments and cannot pay its lenders for the luxury hotel recently added to its property. Country Crossing is reportedly having similar problems paying its lenders.

Joe Godfrey, executive director of Alabama Citizens Action Program, which has fought against legalizing gambling in the state for decades, said Gilley’s guilty plea proves what he and others have believed about gambling all along.

“Everywhere gambling is introduced, it breeds corruption,” Godfrey said. “I think it’s very interesting and sad that we live in a culture where people can’t see through the glitz and the glamour that gambling produces. He (Gilley) was bringing in all the country music stars, and the people were hearing all the promises and were given a bill of goods that it (gambling) was going to be great for the economy. But they don’t tend to see the devastation it brings to families and homes and individuals and the corruption that it breeds. That was the argument that we were trying to give last year when we were fighting it in the state Legislature. … Everybody laughed at us and said we were trying to stop progress. Now some of the same people are writing blogs on the news reports and saying they were wrong — that Ronnie Gilley was selling us a bill of goods that he couldn’t produce and, in the meantime, doing things that weren’t right.”

While Godfrey and his colleagues welcome Gilley’s confession, their plans to fight against all gambling in Alabama have not changed.

“That is what the Bible teaches — that we are to confess our sins to God and to others and we are to forgive as God forgives us,” Godfrey noted. “We are grateful to God that he has finally realized that what he was doing was wrong. We want to show Christian compassion and the Christian spirit of forgiveness. At the same time, we want to make sure gambling is stopped in Alabama. It doesn’t mean we soften our stance.”

At press time, Greenetrack casino in Eutaw was offering electronic gambling on machines that reportedly resemble computer monitors instead of the slot machine-style devices it and other Alabama casinos previously operated.

“There is a growing concern in the Statehouse and among the churches I’ve talked to that we are going to start letting it (gambling) creep back in,” Godfrey said. “Christians that I’ve talked with and legislators I’ve talked with that are opposed to gambling are calling upon Gov. Bentley and Attorney General Strange to act soon to stop the resurgence of gambling that has started with Greene County.”

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