Washington Babylon — April 5, 2010, 1:07 pm

Gambling Wars

In Alabama the hottest political issue is not deficits or job creation. It’s a computerized gambling machine called electronic bingo. Governor Bob Riley has launched a major effort to put electronic bingo out of business. When the state’s attorney general didn’t see eye-to-eye with him on the interpretation of law, he launched a special task force to root out this apparent moral blight. Curiously, Riley has no comparable zeal for suppressing gambling at Indian casinos; indeed, an examination of his campaign receipts shows that his political career has been substantially fueled by Indian casinos. Defying the governor, the state senate just voted 21-13 to let the people of Alabama decide the future of bingo gambling by referendum. The governor immediately denounced the referendum legislation as “corrupt.” Now the gambling wars in Alabama have taken a strange twist. The FBI and federal prosecutors have waded in, taking a decisive stand against the bingo operators. The AP reports:

Attorneys representing a Country Crossing casino lobbyist said Friday they are concerned that an investigation of possible corruption linked to a bingo bill in the Alabama Legislature is politically motivated to kill the measure. “It smells of a desperate attempt to keep Alabama from getting this issue,” attorney Brett Bloomston said at a news conference in front of the Statehouse…

A state investigator, however, tried to question the Country Crossing lobbyist, and Riley’s appointed director of public safety summoned six legislative leaders to a meeting Thursday at his office with federal officials who informed them of the probe. Public Safety Director Chris Murphy issued a statement Friday saying he was asked by the FBI to call the legislative leaders to the meeting with officials from the Justice Department. He said the federal officials sought his involvement because they did not know Alabama’s legislative leaders and wanted to use his office because it was more discrete than meeting at the Statehouse. When asked why a Department of Public Safety employee tried to interview the Country Crossing lobbyist if it is an FBI investigation, Public Safety spokeswoman Martha Earnhardt said the department had been requested by the FBI to make no comment beyond Murphy’s statement.

It’s highly unusual for a federal criminal investigation to be announced in the manner described here, as a piece of legislation is coming up for a vote. Federal prosecutors are essentially issuing a threat to the legislature against passing the referendum bill, and they are labeling it as corrupt. This conduct is virtually unprecedented. On behalf of the Democrats in the state legislature, former U.S. attorney Doug Jones sent a letter [PDF] to Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer about the moves taken by Justice Department actors:

On Thursday, April 1st,… DOJ officials disclosed an ongoing criminal investigation involving a constitutional amendment regarding “electronic bingo” just passed by the Alabama Senate and under consideration by the Alabama House of Representatives. Electronic bingo is currently the most controversial political issue in Alabama, with Governor Riley and the Republican legislators leading the opposition to current bingo operations and passage of the constitutional amendment that would allow bingo under certain circumstances. The timing, means, and motivation of this disclosure are highly suspect.

This strategic disclosure of such a highly sensitive investigation, and the unprecedented summoning of legislators to essentially inform them that their votes are being scrutinized by federal officials, inevitably creates a chilling effect on the legislators’ exercise of their unquestioned duty to vote on pending legislation… When asked by legislative leaders on how they should proceed with legislation… the attorneys with the Public Integrity Section stated, and I paraphrase: “I don’t think you would want the citizens of the State of Alabama to be voting on legislation brought about by a corrupted process.”

In others words, Justice Department attorneys were threatening legislators against enacting the referendum measure.

This case presents a stunning and heavy-handed use of the prosecutorial power to influence the course of legislation, in defiance of basic constitutional ground rules. Who stands behind it? The U.S. attorney involved, Leura Canary, is the wife of Karl Rove’s long-time friend Bill Canary—a Bush-era U.S. attorney, she still has not been replaced. Canary and her husband are both close to Governor Riley, and Canary was appointed to an Indian gambling commission by Riley. Her deputy who handled the prosecution of Don Siegelman, Louis Franklin, led the effort. Several other figures from the Siegelman prosecution also appear involved in the matter. This case offers an excellent opportunity for Main Justice to examine the way federal prosecutorial authority is wielded in the Heart of Dixie.

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

Commentary November 17, 2015, 6:41 pm

Shaky Foundations

The Clintons’ so-called charitable enterprise has served as a vehicle to launder money and to enrich family friends.

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

October 2016

Innocents

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Quiet Car

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Psychedelic Trap

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Hamilton Cult

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Held Back

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Division Street

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Hamilton Cult·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The past is complicated, and explaining it is not just a trick, but a gamble."
Illustration by Jimmy Turrell
Article
Division Street·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Perfectly sane people lose access to housing every day, though the resultant ordeal may undermine some of that sanity, as it might yours and mine."
Photograph © Robert Gumpert
Article
Held Back·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"'We don’t know where the money went!' a woman cried out. 'They looted it! They stole our money!'"
Artwork by Mischelle Moy
Article
The Quiet Car·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Flor Arely Sánchez had been in bed with a fever and pains throughout her body for three days when a July thunderstorm broke over the mountainside. She got nervous when bolts of light flashed in the sky. Lightning strikes the San Julián region of western El Salvador several times a year, and her neighbors fear storms more than they fear the march of diseases — first dengue, then chikungunya, now Zika. Flor worried about a lot of things, since she was pregnant.

Late in the afternoon, when the pains had somewhat eased, Flor thought she might go to a dammed-up bit of the river near her house to bathe. She is thirty-five and has lived in the same place all her life, where wrinkled hills are planted with corn, beans, and fruit trees. She took a towel and soap and walked out into the rain. Halfway to the river, the pains returned and overcame her. The next thing Flor remembers, she was in a room she didn’t recognize, unable to move. As she soon discovered, she was in a hospital, her ankle cuffed to the bed, and she was being investigated for abortion.

Photograph by Joshua Lutz
Article
Innocents·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The next thing Flor remembers, she was in a room she didn’t recognize, unable to move. As she soon discovered, she was in a hospital, her ankle cuffed to the bed, and she was being investigated for abortion."
Photograph © Nadia Shira Cohen

Average duration of a Japanese prime minister’s tenure since August 1993, in months:

16

Brain shrinkage has no effect on cognition.

An Indianapolis fertility doctor was accused of using his own sperm to artificially inseminate patients, and a Delaware man pleaded guilty to fatally stabbing his former psychiatrist.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today