U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson minced few words describing two witnesses used by the government in last summer’s bingo corruption trial. In a 44 page order filed Thursday, Thompson wrote state Senator Scott Beason and Houston County Judge Benjamin Lewis’ statements presented at trial demonstrates a “deep seated racial animus and a desire to suppress black votes by manipulating what issues appeared on the 2010 ballot.”
Thompson issued his findings in a required court opinion following the trial that found two defendants not guilty, lobbyist Robert Geddie and Montgomery Senator Quinton Ross, and left the remaining defendants facing about a third of the original charges. The two thirds of the charges were dismissed by not guilty verdicts. The retrials of the seven remaining defendants are due to begin sometime early next year in Thompson’s court.
Thompson wrote, “this written opinion memorializes the court’s oral findings, and further sets forth the reasons for the court’s conclusion that the government has proven, except as to Crosby, the requisites for the admissibility of these statements by a preponderance of the evidence.” He was referring to co-conspirator statements used in trial.
The defendants are accused to trying to buy and sell votes in a conspiracy allegedly led by VictoryLand casino owner Milton McGregor.
However, Thompson made it clear he found Beason and Lewis were playing a game of their own. The judge said had they not felt threatened politically, they said they would not have stepped forward to help the FBI investigators by wearing a wire.
Thompson wrote, “Beason, Lewis, and their political allies sought to defeat SB380 partly because they believed the absence of the referendum on the ballot would lower African-American voter turnout during the 2010 elections.”
Thompson detailed the racially charged statements included in recordings captured by investigators. The judge’s words were explicit.
“One of the government’s recordings captured Beason and Lewis discussing political strategy with other influential Republican legislative allies.
“A confederate warned: “Just keep in mind if [a pro-gambling] bill passes and we have a referendum in November, every black in this state will be bused to the polls. And that ain’t gonna help.”
“The participants predicted: “Every black, every illiterate” would be
“bused on HUD financed buses.”
“Beason agreed: “That’s right. This will be busing extra. . . . Because
you gotta have somebody to pay for those buses.”
“One participant replied that casinos would provide “free food” and gambling certificates to get black voters to the polls.
“In a separate conversation, during which Lewis asked whether the predominantly black residents of Greene County were “y’all’s Indians?,” Beason responded by derisively referring to blacks as “Aborigines.”
The court finds that Beason and Lewis cooperated with the F.B.I. in order to secure political advantage.”
Just a few weeks ago, Beason attempted to publically apologize for the “Aborigine” statement. The Gardendale senator stated during the trial he had aspirations for higher political office. He has said in the past he would like to be governor.
Benjamin Lewis was a state senator when Senate Bill 380 was being considered by the state senate. Before Leaving office, Governor Bob Riley, who had launched an anti-electronic bingo crusade during his last months in office, appointed Lewis to a Houston County judgeship.
That appointment was criticized as “political payback” for his opposition to electronic bingo legislation.
Lewis denied the allegations saying, “The governor and I have never had a conversation related to this judgeship at all.”
Thompson spent roughly 12 pages of his opinion declaring Beason and Lewis’ motives during the investigation as illicit.
He wrote, “the discriminatory intent expressed by Beason, Lewis, and their influential legislative friends represents another form of corruption infecting the political system. Like the defendants, Beason’s and Lewis’s opposition to the bill was not grounded in impartial evaluation of the merits of SB380. Rather, they were motivated by a fear of who might turn out to vote. The purpose of their competing scheme was to maintain and strengthen white control of the political system. It is intolerable in our society for lawmakers to use public office as a tool for racial exclusion and polarization. This form of race discrimination is as profoundly damaging to the fabric of democracy as is the bribery schemes the government seeks to punish.”
To the intent of the opinion, the judge wrote, “The government has also introduced co-conspirator statements by individuals who were not identified in the indictment.” He found they did know about the conspiracy.
“The government offered an e-mail by Rick Heartsill with a list of names and addresses of PACs that had contributed to [Slocomb Senator Harri Anne] Smith.”
“The evidence establishes under the preponderance-of-the-evidence standard that [State Senator Roger] Bedford was a member of the conspiracy.”
“The evidence indicates that [political consultant Joe] Perkins was aware of [Country Crossing developer Ronnie] Gilley’s offers to lawmakers and knowingly participated in the plan.”
Thompson also found that Monica Cooper played a role in the plot as “an employee of the Republican Senatorial Caucus whom McGregor paid $4,000 per month. The government demonstrated by the preponderance of the evidence that Cooper gave McGregor inside information about Senate discussions of SB380.”
Meantime, the court found “The government has failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that [defendant former legislative employee Ray] Crosby was a member of the conspiracy.”
Thompson concluded his opinion saying the hearsay statements of the conspirators were and are “admissible against McGregor, [lobbyist Tom] Coker, [former Attalla Senator Larry] Means, [former Talladega Senator Jim] Preuitt, [Slocomb Senator Harri Anne] Smith, and [former Country Crossing spokesman Jay] Walker, but not against Crosby. However, the court again emphasizes that, because these finding of fact are based not on the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard but rather on the less-demanding preponderance of-the-evidence standard, this opinion should not be construed as finding that these six defendants are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That determination is within the province of the jury and is not for the court to decide. Indeed, if the applicable standard here were beyond a reasonable doubt, the court might very well reach contrary findings in this opinion insofar as these six defendants’ participation in the alleged conspiracy is discussed.”