(MONTGOMERY, Ala.) — All six defendants in a sweeping corruption prosecution, including three current and former Alabama state lawmakers, have been acquitted on charges of trading bribes for votes on gambling legislation.
In addition to the three current and former lawmakers, a powerful casino owner, a casino employee and a gambling interest lobbyist had been charged in the widespread alleged corruption scheme, according to ABC News Montgomery affiliate WNCF.
The first federal probe into the alleged corruption began in 2008, when then-state senator Paul Stanford, along with two other Republican legislators, went to the FBI claiming that not only had he personally been offered $250,000 as a bribe, but said there was widespread corruption in Alabama’s statehouse.
“There’s always a backdoor deal going on in somebody’s office or in the corner of the chamber or over dinner with a lobbyist,” Sanford said during an ABC News investigation in 2010. “There’s always somebody working an unusual angle to try to sway your vote or entice you with a vote.”
When several officials were arrested in 2010, Sanford called it a “dream come true” because the arrests “[told] the people of Alabama that integrity does matter.”
The most recent case was the second time the officials had been in front of a jury — a previous trial ended in August without decision for most defendants and with two others being acquitted. One other defendant, legislature bill writer Ray Crosby, died reportedly of natural causes in January before the retrial began.
Even before the 2010 arrests, authorities in Alabama said it was becoming clear that the lobbyists seeking help with bingo legislation were pressing the limits.
“If you’re going to be in politics you’re going to have to raise money but when it gets to the point that there’s a quid pro quo — I will give you this if you do that, then I think it’s gone too far,” Alabama Gov. Bob Riley told ABC News in 2010.
Riley first began waging a campaign to stop the spread of electronic bingo machines in 2008. He argued they were nothing more than slot machines. “I [think] anyone who has ever played bingo understands you can’t play it in six seconds,” he said.
After an electronic bingo bill passed in the state senate last spring, with several lawmakers switching their votes in the final hours, authorities began to harbor suspicions. Federal agents received permission to eavesdrop on suspects using wiretaps and convened a grand jury.
Reacting to the news of indictments, the governor’s office released a statement calling the arrests “disappointing but hardly surprising.”
But in the end, the defense for the remaining suspects argued that the case was based on lies told by those who already pleaded guilty who were hoping for less harsh punishment.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Madison Park and Chandrika Narayan, CNN
Carma Hassan and Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN Newswire