The indictment was unsealed Monday as FBI agents made several arrests at locations around the state.
The government alleges Preuitt and the other senators “corruptly solicited, demanded, accepted and agreed to accept money and things of value from defendants and others, intending to be influenced and rewarded in connection with pro-gambling legislation.”
Specific charges against Preuitt include conspiracy, bribery, extortion, honest services fraud and providing a false statement to federal agents. Promises made to Preuitt if he voted for the pro-gambling legislation, which he did in March, included $2 million to his reelection campaign, according to the indictment.
The legislation listed in the indictment, Senate Bill 380, would have permitted a referendum the operation and taxation of electronic bingo in Alabama. The bill cleared the Senate at the end of March, after failing an early procedural vote earlier in the month. FBI agents told state leaders of their investigation the next day.
A federal grand jury has been investigating for months whether political corruption or vote buying was involved with the bill.
Preuitt, a five-term senator, switched his party registration from Democrat to Republican and filed to run again for his seat in April, just days after the SB380 vote. He announced Sept. 1 he would not seek re-election, listing his age as a factor.
Included in the indictment was VictoryLand casino owner Milton McGregor. His casino, now shut down, has more than 6,000 electronic bingo machines. Also indicted was Country Crossing casino developer Ronnie Gilley and state senators Larry Means (D-Gadsden), Quinton Ross Jr. (D-Montgomery) and Harri Anne Smith of Slocomb. Smith had been a Republican, but was barred by the state party from seeking re-election just days after the passage of SB 380, ostensibly for supporting a Democrat in a Congressional race. She’d since campaigned as an independent candidate.
Also indicted were lobbyists Thomas E. Coker, Robert B. Geddie Jr. and Jarrod D. Massey. Joseph R. Crosby, an employee of the state Legislative Reference Service, also is charged in the case.
Preuitt’s colleagues in the local legislative delegation said they were surprised by his arrest today.
Sen. Del Marsh of Anniston, who has worked with Preuitt for years, said he was surprised and disappointed by the allegations.
“Everybody is innocent until proven guilty,” Marsh said. “But I am disappointed in the indictments … it’s a sad day for the Legislature. It brings up questions of trust in the state Legislature.”
Marsh, a Republican, said though he has worked with Preuitt in the past, he never supported any of the recent gambling legislation and voted against the bill listed in the indictment.
“During this whole situation, I’ve never received a subpoena,” Marsh said. “And I’ve never received a letter from a party of interest. I’ve always been on the other side of the gambling issue.”
Rep. Randy Wood, an Anniston Republican, said he too has worked with Preuitt, but has not supported gambling legislation to date.
“I don’t have a problem with letting the people vote up or down on it, but this legislation had nothing to do with it,” Wood said. “This was some of the worst legislation I’ve ever seen.”
Like Marsh, Wood was surprised by Preuitt’s indictment.
“He’s always been on the up and up … he always seemed like a first-class guy to me,” Wood said. “I know it’s a sad day in Alabama when something like this arises.”
The Democratic candidate for Preuitt’s District 11 seat, Jerry Fielding, sent an e-mail to The Star Monday indicating his distaste of corruption and outlining his push to restore integrity to the state Legislature.
“It is clear from these indictments today that gambling interests have had a corrosive effect on the legislative process in Alabama,” Fielding said. “It is time to let the legal system do its job … however public corruption is a problem we must deal with in the courtroom and at the ballot box. From the beginning of my campaign, I have said we need new faces and a new attitude in our statehouse. My candidacy is about restoring character and integrity to the State Senate, and letting the voice of the people be heard once again.”
Efforts to reach Ray Robbins, the Republican candidate for the District 11, seat were not immediately successful.
Alabama Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ron Sparks in a press release reiterated his support of gambling legislation despite the indictments.
“Just because these indictments have been handed down does not mean that gaming is going away,” Sparks said. “That is why I have been so relentless since day one that we must strongly regulate and tax gaming. If we had a plan to regulate gaming 7-and-a-half years ago, these kinds of things would not be happening today.”
A press release from Gov. Bob Riley’s office states Riley’s fight against electronic bingo has really been about corruption, not gambling. It also states that Riley had no knowledge about the defendants’ alleged activities and has had no contact with federal agents involved in this investigation.