Bingo and politics dominate news in 2010

*Greenetrack and electronic bingo dominated the news, not only in Greene County, but also in most of Alabama in 2010.
In 2009, the Eatman Alumni Association obtained a bingo license and entered into an agreement with Sidetrack LLC to open such an establishment.
This quickly became a moot point when Alabama Governor Bob Riley established an Task Force on Illegal Gambling. The first head of this organization was forced to resign when it was revealed that he won a $2,300 jackpot at a slot machine in Mississippi.
Riley appointed John Tyson. Mobile District Attorney, as the head of his Task Force.
Throughout the month of February, electronic bingo was the main topic of discussion.
On February 23, 2010, over 1,000 people, many of them from Greene County, gathered near the Alabama State House in Montgomery to urge the Alabama Senate to pass a bill for a constitutional amendment to legalize, regulate and tax electronic bingo. The amendment passed on March 30, with 21 senators voting yes. However, the Alabama House never took a vote on this amendment.
Nevertheless, Riley continued his anti-bingo campaign.
Circuit Judge Eddie Hardaway foiled a planned raid on June 18 by issuing injunctions against the state.  Tyson appealed this move to the Alabama Supreme Court and on Tuesday, June 29, Alabama State Troopers surrounded Greenetrack, as hundreds of citizens gathered outside the gates. Greenetrack CEO Luther “Nat” Winn, two county commissioners, State Senator Bobby Singleton and several Greenetrack employees formed a human barricade inside the doors of Greenetrack to prevent the troopers from entering.
However, Riley’s Task Force, aided by the numerous state troopers, finally succeeded in closing the establishment and confiscated all the electronic bingo machines.
The people who had stood inside the door were arrested and charged with obstructing a government organization. They were all later found not guilty in Greene County District Court.
On July 28, 2010, Civil Rights Attorney Jim Blacksher filed a class action suit on behalf of voters of Greene and Macon counties against Gov. Bob Riley and Task Force leader John Tyson in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, Western Division. This suit was based on Riley and Tyson’s use of Executive Order 44 to raid and subsequently close down bingo operations in both counties.
The loss of electronic bingo at Greenetrack created a great deal of hardship in Greene County. Almost 400 people lost their jobs and funding for many organizations and governmental entities ceased. Although Greenetrack itself could remain open since parimutuel wagering is legal in Alabama, the revenue generated was not nearly enough to provide jobs and benefits on the same level as electronic bingo did.
The year ended with no change, although many protests were lodged and mass meetings were held.
*The other major story of 2010, this one affecting the entire state, was the Republican victories throughout Alabama on the local and state level in the November General Election.
A second Republican governor, Robert Bentley, was elected and Republicans took control of the Alabama Legislature for the first time in 136 years.
Terri Sewell became the first Alabama Black female elected to Congress. Sewell, a Democrat, serves the 7th Congressional District
On a local level, there were few Republican votes cast in Greene County.
There were two new Democratic faces on the Greene County Commission – Elzora Fluker defeated incumbent Donald Means in District 3 and Allen Turner, Jr. replaced Bill  Johnson, who retired, in District 4.
The Greene County School Board selected Frank Smith to fill the District 3 seat vacated by Fluker. He will serve her unexpired term.
There was some good news in 2010 in Greene County.
*The U. S. Senate finally passed funding for $1.5 billion Pigford II Black farmer class action suit. This opens the door for many farmers in Greene County who filed too late in the Pigford I case to receive the $50,000 settlement or any other type of settlement under the original lawsuit.
Many farmers hope to benefit from this second settlement, but it is strictly for those who had already filed in the initial suit, but filed too late.
The next step is that the settlement must be approved by the Federal District Court in Washington, D. C.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said that it could be at least a year before any payments were made and it’s highly unlikely anyone will get money until some time in 2012.
*During the year 2010, Greene County had a total of four sheriffs – Ison Thomas, Ronald Kent Smith, George Cook and Joe Benison.
Thomas was elected Greene County Sheriff in 2006 with a historic write-in campaign and was respected by most of the citizens of Greene County.
Thomas died on April 3, 2010 from complications of cancer. Alabama law provides that on the death of a sitting sheriff, the county coroner takes the office. This made Smith the new Greene County Sheriff.
In the June primary, Joe Benison was elected sheriff, but despite that Riley appointed George Cook as Greene County’s sheriff. Cook was an ABC officer who had never held a position of leadership.
Cook resigned his position in December and Gov. Riley appointed Joe Benison as sheriff. Benison officially took the oath of office on December 22. This made four sheriffs in the county in less than a year.
Benison will be sworn in again on January 9, 2010 in a public ceremony to begin the term he was elected for.
*The City of Eutaw also lost its lead law enforcement office when Police Chief Tommy Summerville died on December 9th. Summerville has not yet been replaced, but Asst. Chief Luther Davis is serving as interim chief while the city goes through the application process.
*On Friday, February 26, 2010, the Greene County High School Tigers Basketball team easily beat Madison Academy 61-44 to win the Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 3A State Championship. The entire county celebrated their victory.
*The Eutaw City Council has dealt with some thorny problems this past year. A resolution brought up in to create an Industrial Development Authority was tabled for the fourth time in six months in the March meeting. This authority would have replaced the existing Industrial Development Board. To create the authority, the council would have to transfer its 45% of the land in Crossroads of America Industrial Park to the Authority. Danny Cooper, then chair of the IDB, said he could not understand their hesitancy to support the resolution since most of them had told him in private they did support it.
He said that Greene County had already lost one business to another town because they were unable to act swiftly to provide a land option.
The creation of this authority was was approved at a later meeting.
In March, the council removed Mayor Raymond Steele from signing checks on any city account. Instead they designated two of three persons – city clerk Peggy Stripling, Councilwoman Hattie Edwards and Councilman Ralph Liverman as signees.
Elam Properties requested an ordinance change to allow them to open a recycling plant in Eutaw. The Zoning Board recommended that the Eutaw City Council deny this request. However, the council voted 3-1 to support a new ordinance to change the zoning of the former Sumer Veneer site from M-1 (light industry) to M-2 (heavy industry), which could allow Elam Properies to locate in the city.
In May the council questioned why SouthFresh Catfish Processers only paid the city $500 per month for water and sewage. This was resolved before the end of the year, with an agreement that Southfresh would pay $3,000 per month for the next 12 months, which will help city finances.
On a more positive note, Dr. Arnaldo Sanchez, a doctor of internal medicine, joined the staff of the Greene County Hospital and Physicians Clinic.

Lack of funding eliminates E-911 employees

A combination of occurrences including the lack of funding from electronic bingo and lack of sufficient funding  from the city and county governments has caused the much needed community service of E-911 to eliminate several staff positions.

This agency is required by law to answer and dispatch for an emergency warranting a response in the areas of fire suppression and rescue, emergency medical services or ambulances, hazardous material, disaster or major emergency occurrences, and law enforcement activities  in a prompt and timely manner.

However, from the early origin of Greene County E-911, this agency acquired the dispatching services for city and county law enforcement agencies, thus saving their individual budgets the expense of personnel costs that would have been needed in order to provide personnel to perform non-emergency dispatching responsibilities for their individual officers.

According to the Greene County E-911 Director and its board of directors, if they are unable to fill the financial void left after the loss of electronic bingo and the loss in the county’s population as shown by the 2010 Census Report, the only way to keep E-911 operating would be to return  non-emergency dispatching back to city and county government; or operate within the E-911 guidelines of providing non-emergency dispatch to law enforcement, volunteer fire departments, ambulance and rescue on contractual basis only

Milton McGregor and 10 others arrested in federal cases concerning bingo and the Alabama Legslature

Milton McGregor Senators James E. Preuitt, Quinton Ross, Jr., Harri Ann Smith and Larry Means Ronnie Gilley

Federal agents descended on Alabama on Monday, October 4 and made a series of arrests in cases involving electronic bingo and alleged bribery and vote buying in the Alabama Legislature.
According to a spokesman for the U. S. Department of Justice, Lanny A. Breuer, 11 individuals have been charged in their roles in a conspiracy to ofter to and to bribe Alabama legislators for their votes and influence on proposed legislation that would legalize electronic bingo gambling machines in Alabama.
The defendants named in the indictment are being charged with the following crimes:
Milton E. McGregor, 71, of Montgomery, AL, (owner of VictoryLand casino in Macon County) was charged with one count of conspiracy, six counts of federal program bribery, and 11 counts of honest services mail and wire fraud;
Ronald E. Gilley, (developer of Country Crossing casino in Dothan) 45, of Enterprise, AL, was charged with one count of conspiracy, six counts of federal program bribery, 11 counts of honest services mail and wire fraud, and four counts of money laundering;
Lobbyist Jarrod D. Massey, 39, of Montgomery, AL, was charged with one count of conspiracy, five counts of federal program bribery, and 11 counts of honest services mail and wire fraud;
Lobbyist Thomas E. Coker, 70, of Lowndesboro, AL, was charged with one count of conspiracy, two counts of federal program bribery, and 11 counts of honest services mail and wire fraud;
Lobbyist Robert B. Geddie Jr., 60, of Montgomery, AL, was charged with one count of conspiracy, one count of federal program bribery, 11 counts of honest services mail and wire fraud, and one count of obstruction of justice;
Public relations spokesman Jarrell W. Walker Jr., 36, of Lanett, AL, was charged with one count of conspiracy, one count of federal program bribery, and 11 counts of honest services mail and wire fraud;
State Senator Harri Anne H. Smith, 48, of Slocomb, AL, was charged with one count of conspiracy, two counts of federal program bribery, one count of extortion, 11 counts of honest services mail and wire fraud, and four counts of money laundering;
State Senator Larry P. Means, 63, of Attalla, AL, was charged with one count of conspiracy, two counts of federal program bribery, two counts of attempted extortion, and 11 counts of honest services mail and wire fraud;
State Senator James E. Preuitt, 75, of Talladega, AL, was charged with one count of conspiracy, one count of federal program bribery, one count of attempted extortion, 11 counts of honest services mail and wire fraud, and one count of making a false statement;
State Senator Quinton T. Ross Jr., 41, of Montgomery, AL, was charged with one count of conspiracy, two counts of federal program bribery, two counts of attempted extortion, and 11 counts of honest services mail and wire fraud; and
State Senator Joseph R. Crosby, 61, of Montgomery, AL, was charged with one count of conspiracy, one count of federal program bribery, and 11 counts of honest services mail and wire fraud.
The conspiracy charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The federal program bribery charges carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Each count of extortion, honest services mail and wire fraud, money laundering and obstruction of justice carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The false statement charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The indictment also contains a notice of forfeiture as to defendants Smith and Gilley.
The federal investigation deals with acts allegedly committed during the 2009 and 2010 legislative sessions. McGregor and Gilley, along with the various lobbyists, supposedly offered legislators money and other inticements for favorable votes on the legalization of electronic bingo machines.
A federal grand jury began hearing the cases in the spring and summer of 2010 and issued sealed indictments. On Monday, Oct. 4, these indictments were unsealed and the arrests began.
All 11 arrested have been released on unsecured appearance bonds which ranged between $100,000 and $500,00 each. As a condition of his release, McGregor must wear an electronic ankle bracelet.

Timing of Arrests is
‘Suspicious’

Many people question the timing of the arrests and see the entire scenario as a scheme to influence the upcoming general election in November.
State Senator Hank Sanders said, “It is my understanding that this investigation has been going on for 19 months. I cannot understand for the world of me why these indictments come down 28 days before a general election. They could have come down eight days afterwords or 98 days before. It smacks of politics to me!
“I’m against corruption in any form and we must all stand against corruption but our justice system ought not to play politics. The U. S. Attorney in Montgomery is still a Republican hold-over from the Bush Administration and it was her office that hounded former Democratic Governor Siegelman year in and year out for years. “This will have an unknown impact on the November general election.We must see that it is not an adverse impact. I thought that the US Justice Department had a rule that indictments ought not to be handed down against political office holders within 90 days of an election. Maybe I’m wrong but if they do have such a rule, then it was grossly violated in this situation.
“I am deeply concerned about the families of all the people involved whether they are indicted or whether they are the ones who are bringing the indictment.”
Democratic gubenatorial candidate Ron Sparks called the timing of the release of the indictments “suspicious.”
He also said that the indictments “did not mean that the gambling issue was going away and I will continue to push for the regulation and taxation of gambling.”