The Great Alabama Bingo Conspiracy!
Jennifer Pouncy, a lobbyist in Alabama and who pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy, was sentenced to 3 years probation by a federal judge for her part in a vote buying bingo conspiracy. Pouncy admitted that she offered bribes to two Alabama senators in exchange for their votes on a gambling bill. The prosecutors in Pouncy’s case recommended that the judge sentence her to 2 years in prison because they said she had committed very serious crimes. Defense attorney Tommy Spina argued for leniency on his client’s behalf stating that Pouncy was simply following the orders of her boss. Spina went on to say that his client had no intention of opening her own casino – she was simply trying to keep her $60,000 a year job.
The Alabama Bingo Conspiracy
Pouncy testified at 2 separate trials that she was reluctant to follow the orders of her boss, fellow lobbyist Jarrod Massey and Ronnie Gilley, a casino developer. Gilley and Massey are believed to have offered campaign contributions to Alabama senators in order to get their votes on a bill that would legalize electronic bingo machines in Alabama casinos. Spina pointed out that this is evidence that Gilley and Massey were the ringleaders of this conspiracy. Spina also stated that they had total control and Pouncy was just their puppet.
He also added that Pouncy is a hard-working mother to a 3 year old boy and it would not do any good to put her in prison. Pouncy was fighting to keep back her tears as she apologized to her family and the court for her actions. She said she was sorry for what she had done and wished that she was stronger for her son and her husband. However, Rae Woods, a federal prosecutor told Judge Keith Watkins that Pouncy should be put in prison because of the seriousness of her crimes as it threatened the very essence of the Alabama State government.
The Result of the Bingo Trials
Pouncy was facing up to 5 years in prison and prosecutors said they were already being lenient by only asking for 2 years. Spina claimed that Pouncy was the first person to cooperate with the investigation and her cooperation helped render guilty pleas from Gilley and Massey. Spina told Judge Watkins that prosecutors first offered to recommend probation but that was taken away by the new chief of Public Integrity at the Department of Justice. During her testimony, Pouncy endured a forceful cross-examination where defense attorneys played a phone conversation recording of Gilley and Massey.
This conversation included Gilley and Massey joking about getting Pouncy to take her clothes off for an older senator in order to win his vote. The trials were a harsh loss for prosecutors as they resulted in not guilty verdicts for casino owner Milton McGregor and 4 former or current state senators. The family and friends of Pouncy wiped their tears and clapped their hands as they judge said that he would not send her to prison. Spina said it was a great relief for Pouncy, her family and for himself. Pouncy declined to make a statement as she left the federal courthouse.
The Alabama Attorney General, Luther Strange, told bingo operators that he would again be sending his investigators if they were not operating in accordance to Alabama state law. Under the law, bingo halls can only operate traditional charity regulations. Strange says he wants to give the operators a chance to remove bingo machines, go to court and receive a ruling to determine if they are traditional bingo machines. If operators choose not to do this, Strange said they will be subject to action by law enforcement.
Previous Bingo Raids
The debate about bingo has been going on in Alabama for quite some time. Gaming operators wish to add electronic slot and bingo machines to their halls to bring in more customers. However, Alabama state law only allows operators to use traditional bingo machines. In addition, the law states that these operators must conform to the guidelines of a charitable bingo operation and Strange believes these machines do not fall within those guidelines. Strange has recently authorized many raids to confiscate these illegal electronic machines.
Recent Bingo Raid Activity
Two weeks ago, investigators confiscated nearly 700 computers and other equipment that is used to operate bingo at the Center Stage Bingo Casino, formerly Country Crossing Bingo Casino, located in Houston County. Law enforcement also seized almost $284,000 from the casino. Sonny Reagan, Deputy Attorney General said that the casino is not challenging the seizure of the money. Strange says that the only legal form of gambling in Alabama is charity bingo and the electronic slot-based machines are not considered to be part of it. Strange also said that he wants every bingo operator in the state to be aware that more raids will be coming.
Pending Court Cases
Currently, there are two cases that are pending in the Greene County Circuit Court. One is based on the seizure of electronic bingo machines at Greenetrack and the other has to do with a state lien against Greenetrack of over $75 million for suspected non-payment of use and sales taxes on bingo revenue. A pretrial hearing on the lien case is scheduled for August 21st, 2012 in the Greene County Circuit Court and a bench trial for the bingo machine seizure has been set for January 13th, 2013. Strange said that his office did the best it could to cooperate with bingo operators to resolve the issues in court but the operators are not anxious to go to court and make a case to see if the machines are illegal.
Tightening Enforcement of Charitable Bingo Laws
In 2012, Greenetrack closed temporarily after investigators confiscated around 825 machines. The bingo operations at Greenetrack started again in 2011 but investigators went back and seized 376 more machines during the summer. Greenetrack then filed to get their machines back. Strange stated that these bingo raids will end when the bingo operators decide to go to court to get a ruling on the legality of the machines. He also said that he wants a final court ruling so his task force can move on to other operations. In addition, Strange advised the Alabama Legislature to increase the penalty from a misdemeanor to a felony for running illegal bingo operations.
The Attorney General’s office is also continuing its investigation into Indian bingo casinos. These casinos have been accused of running the same bingo operations that have been deemed illegal at non-Indian venues. Strange said that only the Department of the Interior can act because they have jurisdiction over Indian gambling operations. Finally, Strange told reporters that as long as his office could resolve the issue of illegal bingo operations in Alabama then the federal government would not get involved.
Law enforcement officers raid a casino at Center Stage Alabama and were able to seize a lot of machines a substantial sum of cash. Law enforcers from the office of Attorney General Luther Strange said that the warrant was released because of the ongoing illegal operations by the Bingo Pavilion. For the past few months, the authorities have been investigating and Wednesday marked the culmination of those activities. Strange said that ever since his first day in office, he made it a point to impose illegal gambling laws all over the state.
Strange Outlaws Gambling
The warrant from Strange resulted in the seizure of hundreds of gambling machines, along with a significant amount of cash. The evidence will be used against the Bingo Hall in Alabama in the Houston County court. So far, no arrests have been made and the investigative team has not released information to the public. Center Stage Bingo Hall was given an opportunity to surrender their bingo-related assets in past – to no avail. Thus, AG Strange’s team had no choice but to confiscate all aforementioned items. As recently as the middle of July, law enforcement already blocked people from being able to go inside the casino.
Nationwide Shutdown Looming?
AG Strange added that several of the nation’s gambling machine factories ceased operations because of law enforcement’s efforts to impose illegal gambling laws. One of the casinos that closed is Country Crossing which later re-opened and changed its name to Center Stage. Sadly, this was done with illegal machines. Country Crossing closed in 2010 with the help of the Alabama Department of Public Safety and the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.
Ronnie Gilley, the previous Country Crossing developer, was sentenced to more than 6 years in prison after pleading guilty to 11 different counts related to illegal gambling which includes bribery, money laundering and conspiracy. AG Luther Strange said that Gilley offered millions of dollars to state lawmakers so he could get their support for legalized gambling. The AG suggested that the government should increase penalties against illegal gambling operations, to ensure that all operations would cease to exist. Until this happens, illegal casino operators will continue to make millions of dollars and it will continue to be a problem.