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Documents reveal truth about bingo casino complaints

Josh Moon

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By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

On August 25, at a little after 8 p.m., Jeff Chandler, Jake Frith and John Daly walked into the River City Entertainment gaming center in Lacey’s Springs and started to play a computer-assisted version of bingo.

The trio played several games, and after 30 minutes or so, they left.

What makes any of the above noteworthy is that Chandler, Frith and Daly are law enforcement officers. Chandler and Frith work for the Alabama Attorney General’s Office as investigators, and Daly works for Huntsville PD.

So, let me explain this another way: In August, two AG’s office investigators spent the better part of their day driving to Huntsville from Montgomery, playing various bingo games, driving three-plus hours back to Montgomery and filing reports on their trip.

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Then, attorneys in the AG’s office spent hours reviewing those reports and writing nuisance complaints against River City Entertainment. Those complaints were then filed, along with complaints against four other casinos around the state.

In each of those five cases, multiple investigators were required to spend hours traveling to casinos and playing bingo games and writing reports.

In each of those cases, multiple attorneys were required to spend hours reviewing reports and writing complaints to be filed with the various county circuit courts.

This is the absurdity of AG Steve Marshall’s renewed bingo wars.

In a state where funding is a consistent issue, that such manpower and resources are being used on victimless, gray-area crime is a horrendous mismanagement of the office.

Because right now, possibly more than ever before in this state’s history, our criminal justice system is woefully behind. Murder cases in some counties sit for nearly three years before landing in front of a jury. Rape and assault cases are just as bad.

But instead of devoting the – apparently – available resources of the AG’s office to aid counties with those shortfalls, Marshall has chosen instead to chase electronic bingo casinos.

Not because the state is overrun with illegal gaming, or because there have been outcries from the public.

It’s not, and there haven’t been.

Because electronic bingo is no more prevalent in Alabama than ticket scalping – an illegal activity that occurs thousands of times every fall Saturday, often times with a cop or two watching the transaction. Yet, there’s no AG’s task force and no plans to crack down.

Because this isn’t about enforcing laws that are being violated or stopping an out-of-control problem or best serving the public.

It’s about PR. And about shutting down sources of campaign contributions that flow to the wrong party.

Because if the AG of this state truly cared about utilizing his office’s resources in a manner that best served the people of Alabama, instead of sending agents out to play bingo, he would use them to aid county district attorneys.

It’s not like he doesn’t know they could use the help.

As part of Marshall’s filings against the five casinos earlier this month, he included a letter from Macon County DA E. Paul Jones to AG office attorney, John Kachelman.

Kachelman had written to Jones to request that Jones’ office investigate illegal gaming at VictoryLand in Shorter. Jones responded by saying he’d be glad to do so, just as soon as his office got finished working on real stuff.

“I have 10 weeks of criminal jury trials in five separate jurisdictions and far more cases scheduled in each of these courts than can possibly be tried,” Jones wrote. “These cases range from capital murder to rape, robbery, child molestation to any other crime you can name. Our resources are paper thin, as I am down to one actual investigator, and we have subpoenas which have to be served personally on witnesses all across this state.

“I point this out to say, if you have time on your hands, you are welcome to come to the Fifth Circuit and help us try some of these cases.”

There was no reply to Jones’ offer. And there was no help sent to the Fifth Circuit.

Because helping convict murderers or getting child molesters off the streets apparently doesn’t grab enough headlines.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Bill Britt

Analysis | Republican brand still strong despite corruption, convictions and copying their Democrat predecessors

Bill Britt

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According to Real Clear Politics, Democrats in Alabama have little chance of making progress in November’s general election because the Republican brand is so strong.

RCP polling shows Gov. Kay Ivey is a hands-down favorite to win against Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox in November’s general election even though she has only been governor for just over a year.

The GOP brand is king in the Heart of Dixie despite nearly a dozen Republican politicos being indicted, convicted or tied to sordid affairs over the last eight years. But it’s not really the state’s elected officials that define the GOP image, rather it’s the National Party and Fox News that keeps the shine from being tarnished by the likes of convicts like Mike Hubbard and friends.

To say that the state’s Republicans are less corrupt than the Democrats they replaced is a debatable argument but not a rigorous one. When it comes to dishonest, unscrupulous and unprincipled behavior, some Republicans are outpacing the Dems by miles.

In his book, “Storming the State House,” then-House Speaker Mike Hubbard wrote, “Democrats have held the majority in Montgomery for 136 years, and during that time, they created an atmosphere that breeds corruption and encourages graft. The recent criminal convictions of numerous Democratic legislators and other Democratic officials provide ample evidence of that fact.”

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Replace the number 136 years with eight, substitute Republican for Democrat in the line, “recent criminal convictions,” and Hubbard’s words are as real today as they were when he wrote them, the only difference is who’s in charge.

It is painful to admit, but many of those who championed strong ethics law, transparency in elections and accountability from all office holders have utterly abandoned those principles.

Currently, the ethics laws are being rewritten in secret by lobbyists because Republican lawmakers want to break the rules they voted for in 2010.

The Republican nominee for Attorney General accepted nearly three-quarters of a million dollars in illegal campaign contributions, but he says there’s a loophole, and not one Republican office holder has challenged him.

The FCPA is being treated as if it a mere suggestion when it applies to certain Republicans who can’t file their paperwork on time.

So, how does a party that promised all these reforms go from champion to cheaters?

It would be easy to say they were crooked to begin with, and like their leader, convicted felon Hubbard, they were always corrupt.

But that simple answer is wrong.

Any honest outside observer has seen the gradual change that has taken place over the last seven-plus years.

When most women and men enter public service they want to do good, and for the most part, they do.

In political office as in all of life, laws are made to constrain the worst impulses on human nature – only in public office, elected lawmakers can change the rules. Generally, they do not hastily change laws to favor themselves for fear of alienating voters. However, once a party realizes they have an iron lock on the electorate, that fear subsides and they are encouraged to do as they please.

This is the inherent danger of a one-party state.

Also in his book, Hubbard wrote, “Republicans understand that we must limit the influence of special interests and other lobbyists who control much of what happens in Montgomery.”

He was right that special interests and lobbyists control much of what happens in Montgomery, but he was wrong because many Republicans didn’t understand, including Hubbard, that the influence of special interests and lobbyists needed to be sharply limited. Instead, many of the same lawmakers who came to do good found it easier to do what most have always done, enjoy the spoils of power.

So, Republicans seem to have a hold on the November elections according to Pollsters, but of course, if all votes were based on polls, President Hillary Clinton would be in the White House, Senator Roy Moore would be making new headlines every day from Washington D.C. and appointed Attorney General Steve Marshall would be packing for Buck’s Pocket.

If politics were based on polling numbers, then Gov. Robert Bentley would soon retire as the state’s most popular governor. (Hint: He thinks he still is.) and Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey would be saying farewell to a storied career as a public servant.

But like life, politics is often subject to the fickle fates who from time-to-time don’t read the polls, rather choosing to lay waste to the best plans of we mere mortals.

And sometimes the partisan scales fall from peoples’ eyes and honesty, integrity and principle, not party, matters.

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Opinion | Alabama Republican lawmakers have broken the law. Should all Republicans in the state lose their rights?

Josh Moon

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It’s time for Republicans in Alabama to give up some rights.

Over the last few years, GOP lawmakers have violated the law on an almost daily basis, and seven of them have been indicted, convicted or pleaded guilty of misusing their offices for public gain.

They have violated the public’s trust repeatedly. They have sought to bend and break the laws — laws they passed — in order to enrich themselves.

The governor. The speaker of the House. The House Majority Leader.

Representatives of the people, sworn to uphold the law and honor their office. All of them criminals.

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And it doesn’t stop there.

GOP lobbyists have been found guilty, too. As have attorneys from law firms that Republicans routinely utilize.

These attorneys and lobbyists have pushed to violate all sorts of laws and ethical standards. From concocting legislation that would enrich lawmakers through personal investments to fighting off EPA action on behalf of a large coal company.

And it doesn’t stop there.

Mega-donors to GOP candidates — the state’s businessmen — have been just as busy ponying up the cash to finance all of these backroom deals.

Sure, Mike Hubbard and Micky Hammon were raking in the ill-gotten gains, but that money didn’t fall from heaven. It came from businessmen who knew very well that what was happening was illegal, and they didn’t care.

None of them — the lawmakers, the attorneys, the lobbyists nor the businessmen — cared about much of anything — the laws, the rules or the people they were hurting.

So long as they got rich, all was justified. It has become a pattern in this state, one that has infected this state’s government for nearly as long as it’s existed.

And that’s why it’s time for some changes.

If you’re a Republican lawmaker of any sort, if you’ve donated to Republicans, if you’ve lobbied Republicans, or even if you’ve just been hanging around with a bunch of Republicans, you should no longer have the same rights as everyone else.

From this point forward, law enforcement officials in this state should have the authority to search anything you own and monitor anything you do. Your bank accounts, your emails, your text messages, your entire financial portfolio should be an open book — available to investigators on demand and without a warrant.

After all, why should law enforcement be forced to jump through the hoops of submitting evidence of probable cause to obtain a warrant, when it has become quite clear by now that Republicans are more than willing to violate the laws of this state and country?

And it shouldn’t stop there.

If law enforcement officials believe that you have violated the laws in order to obtain property or cash, they should be able to confiscate that property or cash indefinitely.

And they should be able to hold any Alabama Republican in jail until such time that he or she can prove that they have not violated the laws of this state.

It’s a shame that it’s come to this, but the actions of so many Alabama Republicans — albeit a minority overall — have proven that you people simply cannot be trusted and should not be entitled to the same rights and protections under the law that the rest of us enjoy.

And if any of this seems unfair, well …

Now you know how the black citizens of this country feel.

Now you have some tiny understanding of how a black man feels when he is forced to prove he belongs in his own neighborhood. Or how the black woman feels when she must prove that there are no drugs in the car. Or how every black citizen feels when they are handcuffed during a routine traffic stop for “being suspicious” or “acting funny” or “being disrespectful.”

And these are the interactions in which no shots are fired and no police batons are used.

It’s not OK.

And there is no justification for it. Not because the officer was afraid or because the crime rate in the neighborhood was high or because some other people once committed crimes.  

It’s wrong.

These are the injustices that NFL players are protesting. Not the flag, and certainly not soldiers.

So, the next time you hear of the player protests, or you listen to your favorite talking head bemoan the “anthem protests,” remember the anger you felt at the beginning of this column. The anger over the mere suggestion that you, or anyone, should lose basic rights because of the unrelated actions of others.

And imagine how you’d feel if it were happening to you every single day.

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Opinion | The voter fraud case no one wants to prosecute

Josh Moon

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Voting fraud is a serious matter for Republicans in Alabama.

They’ve forced through strict ID laws and limited access to polling places and done all sorts of things — short of addressing the one area (absentee ballots) where the overwhelming majority of fraud occurs — to prove just how serious they are about eliminating voting fraud.

Unless that fraud is committed by white, political donors, apparently.

Over in Russell County this week, a strange thing happened. As reported by the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Russell County Circuit Court Judge Michael Bellamy, the chief judge in the county, declared in open court that he was personally sending allegations of voter fraud to a grand jury.

Why would a judge make such an odd presentation to a grand jury — a presentation that would normally be handled by a prosecutor?

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Because Bellamy can’t seem to get Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall on the phone.

An exasperated Bellamy told the audience in his courtroom that he had made “repeated calls” to Marshall’s office. “I don’t know what else to do,” Bellamy said, according to the Ledger -Enquirer.

After 10 months, who would?

The allegations were first reported to Bellamy in his courtroom last December, a few weeks after the Nov. 14 municipal elections were held in Phenix City. They were familiar allegations.

A number of people had reported that several local realtors who lived outside of the Phenix City town limits had used their business addresses to register to vote in municipal elections. An investigation by Phenix City police found that 82 people had used business addresses to register to vote.

Russell County District Attorney Ken Davis was forced to recuse from the case, which sent the matter to the AG’s office for prosecution. Davis also indicated in the courtroom this week that he had been unable to reach anyone in the AG’s office, despite the fact he sent his investigative file on the case to Marshall’s office in May.

Davis did say he had corresponded with the AG’s office by email.

Mike Lewis, a spokesman for Marshall’s office, said, “We disagree with the characterization (of how the case has been handled).” Past that, Lewis said the office could not comment on a specific case it is working.

Secretary of State John Merrill said his office was contacted about the matter and has since followed up with Davis, several local officials and most of the registrar board.

“We are aware of a number of issues related to municipal contests in that county,” Merrill said. “We’ve had communications with municipal officials, and we continue to be diligent in our efforts with them. We’re confident that the people responsible will be dealt with.”

Why he’s sure isn’t clear. Prosecution is left up to the AG’s office, and sources familiar with the matter told APR that this isn’t the first time the Alabama AG’s office has slow walked voter fraud investigations.

Some of that could be the shrinking staff of the AG’s special prosecutions unit, which would be tasked with handling election fraud matters.

But such a delay — especially a delay in which a judge is personally reaching out to the AG’s office and doing so while other cases of voter fraud (in poor, mostly minority counties) are going full speed ahead — raises other questions. Questions about good intentions and political bias and favors for a group of realtors that isn’t shy about spreading around campaign donations (although none to Marshall’s campaign).

Something doesn’t seem right here.

Or maybe the GOP only cares about voter fraud when it can be used to limit Democratic voters.

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Bill Britt

Opinion | What is possible…

Bill Britt

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From the Capitol to the State House, from the business community to the halls of education, there is an urgent need for Alabama leaders who will work together to turn back the prevailing tide of self-dealing and mediocracy. Alabama is far too often the home of status quo where leaders don’t dare aim for the far horizon because that requires facing unpleasant facts that demand hard choices. Over the last several months, Alabama Power Company’s CEO, Mark Crosswhite, and  leaders from Regions Bank, Blue Cross Blue Shield, PowerSouth, Protective Life Corp., and others marquee businesses displayed extraordinary courage to salvage the burning ship that was the Business Council of Alabama.

As Crosswhite said in announcing BCA’s restructuring plan, “The wholesale governance and leadership changes made today show what is possible when businesses come together with a common goal.”

The fight to save BCA was not merely about what was best for business but how BCA, as an institution, could serve the higher interests of the state. Again, Crosswhite makes the point, “While the hard work of moving this organization forward remains, I am pleased with this progress and look forward to working with businesses across our state for a stronger BCA and a better Alabama.”

There is indeed hard work ahead because over the last several years, BCA’s culture has been shaped by the self-interests of a few unprincipled individuals.

What is BCA’s core mission?

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Its website says, “Making a sweet home for business.” That’s a slogan, not a purpose.

A mission statement in business is like an individual’s core beliefs; it is the guiding principle for every action and the place to run back to when things go wrong.

Going forward, the new executive committee will need to define what BCA is and what its character is.

Over the years, BCA has become synonymous with the Republican Party, but businesses, also like individuals, are more than a label. As billionaire industrialist Charles Koch said recently, “I don’t care what initials are in front or after somebody’s name.”

Perhaps Heather Brothers New, chairwoman of the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama, said it best, “We are fortunate in Alabama to have a business community that understands the importance of providing strong leadership on matters that affect our state’s economic success,” New said. “Individuals, families, and communities can’t thrive if our state doesn’t provide an environment where businesses can thrive. Everyone in Alabama benefits from this effort to ensure a unified and effective BCA.”

With governance and leadership changes at BCA, there is an opportunity to start anew to create a better BCA to serve its members and the state. As Bobby Vaughan, a representative from the Alabama Self-Insured Worker’s Compensation Fund said, “At the end of the day, our members are our customers. Our job is to serve the interests of our members, and the new structure will enable us to do that more effectively.”

Crisis and opportunity are two sides of the same coin. Crosswhite and his fellow corporate leaders have shown what is possible. Now, the hard work begins.

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Documents reveal truth about bingo casino complaints

by Josh Moon Read Time: 4 min
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