For the second time, federal prosecutors in Alabama have failed to convince a jury that politicians, lobbyists and a casino owner committed crimes in their failed attempt to get the State Legislature to legalize some forms of gambling.
Six defendants, including three current or former state legislators, were found not guilty on Wednesday of a raft of corruption and bribery charges stemming from a federal investigation that exposed the often sordid backroom dealing of Alabama politics.
At the heart of the case was an argument about whether that dealing was criminal or simply the messy reality of the legislative process. Two federal juries in Montgomery, Ala., have now agreed that it was not criminal.
Nine defendants were tried last year on a longer list of charges, but that trial ended with a mix of acquittals and mistrials. Two of the defendants were found not guilty on all counts; a third was scheduled to be tried again but died of cardiovascular disease the day before jury selection was to begin.
The acquittals Wednesday seemed to put an end to a complicated tale that began several years ago as electronicÂ bingoÂ machines, which are nearly identical in appearance to slot machines, started proliferating around the state.
Arguing that the devices violated a state constitutional ban on gambling, the governor at the time, Bob Riley, a Republican, started an aggressive campaign to shut down small bingo parlors as well as larger casinos, like one that took in millions of dollars a year and is owned by Milton McGregor, the chief defendant and one of the stateâ€™s most generous campaign donors.
In the spring of 2010, as the Legislature considered an amendment that would have permitted and regulated some forms of gambling, word got out that federal investigators were actively looking at the lobbying efforts.