Judge Threatens Prosecutors in Alabama Gambling Case

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Published on:
Mar/23/2011

PHILLIP RAWLS

(Associated Press) - A federal judge chastised prosecutors in Alabama's gambling corruption case Tuesday for not turning over FBI documents to defense attorneys and threatened sanctions if they don't do a better job.

"I'm not even going to think about it. There will be sanctions," U.S. Magistrate Judge Wallace Capel Jr. told prosecutors.

Capel's comments came during a hearing involving requests by defense attorneys to throw out information gathered from FBI wiretaps on the phones of indicted casino owners Milton McGregor and Ronnie Gilley. They contend the wiretaps, which are at the heart of the charges, were not conducted properly and should not be provided to the jury when the casino owners and eight others go on trial June 6.

The defendants, including four present and former state senators, are accused of buying and selling votes on pro-gambling legislation. The unsuccessful legislation was designed to get electronic bingo casinos reopened after they were forced to close a year ago under pressure from the governor's gambling task force. The investigation was overseen by the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section in Washington.

During a hearing on the wiretaps Feb. 28-March 2, the judge learned prosecutors had not turned over all relevant wiretap records. He scheduled another hearing Tuesday. It began with defense attorneys complaining they still didn't have all relevant FBI records.

"This is going over the line. It's not going to happen," the judge told prosecutors. He ordered them to gather all relevant records and give them to the defense by the end of the day. Then he said he would resume the hearing Thursday, when defense attorneys will get to question the FBI agent who oversaw the wiretaps. Then the judge will rule on the wiretaps.

Prosecutors declined comment after the hearing.

Gilley's attorney, former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, said the difficulty in getting records was not surprising because it was part of a pattern of conduct. He said that conduct began last spring when federal investigators revealed their probe just in time to stop an electronic bingo bill in the Legislature. FBI agents told legislative leaders about the probe after the bill passed the Senate. After that disclosure, the bill died in the House without coming to a vote.

"This is a systematic pattern of failure to play by the rules," Jones said.

McGregor's attorney, Joe Espy, said sanctions could include reprimands for prosecutors or removal from the case.

Defense attorneys said they were seeking logs of calls kept by FBI agents, as well as emails and text messages exchanged by the agents who were monitoring the wiretaps. They said the records would help support their claim that agents violated the rules of wiretaps by listening to phone calls between the casino owners and their attorneys.

During the earlier court hearing, FBI agents testified they developed lists of the casino owners' attorneys to make sure agents quit monitoring calls once they realized a lawyer was on the line.

 

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