An Alabama state representative who helped the FBI investigate Statehouse corruption testified Monday that indicted casino owner Milton McGregor tried to buy his vote for pro-gambling legislation by promising significant campaign contributions from his friends.
Republican state Rep. Barry Mask of Wetumpka said McGregor's intentions were clear in a 36-minute phone call that Mask let the FBI record as part of its investigation. Prosecutors played the taped call Monday for the jury in the trial of McGregor and eight others accused of buying and selling votes.
"I'm committed to helping you in a significant way through friends of mine," the VictoryLand casino owner told Mask in the recorded phone call.
Mask is one of three legislators who assisted the FBI in its investigation and is the second to testify in the trial, which began its third week Monday.
Mask said McGregor left him a phone message on Feb. 14, 2010, asking him to call. Mask contacted an attorney with the state Department of Public Safety, who put him in contact with the FBI, which had already begun an investigation.
With two FBI agents at this side, Mask returned McGregor's phone call on the morning of Feb. 15, 2010. In the phone call, McGregor seeks Mask's vote for a proposed constitutional amendment to protect McGregor's electronic bingo casino from raids by the governor's gambling task force. Then he talks about getting campaign support for Mask, who was running for re-election.
Mask, who has always voted against gambling legislation, says he would be hurt politically if he reported campaign contributions from McGregor on his campaign finance reports, which are public records.
McGregor explains that he has lots of friends and he can influence who they support in campaigns. "I mean significant help. These people are players," McGregor says.
When Mask presses him for a figure, McGregor says he needs to call his friends. But he assures Mask that he keeps his promises.
"I've made a commitment to you," McGregor says on the tape.
Mask testified that one of the defendants, McGregor lobbyist Bob Geddie, showed up that night at a campaign fundraising dinner in Elmore County with two campaign donations totaling $5,000. The checks were from political action committees run by Geddie and his partner, Joe Fine.
When asked by prosecutor Steve Feaga what McGregor meant by his remarks in the phone call, Mask testified, "He's bought my vote if I want to vote for his bill."
Defense attorneys objected and U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson said, "Whether Mr. McGregor was buying his vote, the jury can decide and not this witness."
The following day Mask made another phone call to McGregor, also recorded by the FBI. In that call, McGregor says he sent his lobbyist to the fundraiser.
McGregor's defense attorney, Joe Espy, sought to discredit Mask's testimony by getting him to acknowledge that he was the first one to bring up campaign contributions and the fundraising dinner in the first phone call to McGregor.
He also got Mask to acknowledge that he enjoys playing poker with friends even though he traditionally opposes gambling legislation.
Under questioning by defense lawyers, Mask said he receives referral fees annually from lobbyist Steve Windom for recommending that Computer Associates use him as a lobbyist in 2004. Mask said the payments started before he was elected to the Legislature in 2006, and they are to continue as long as Windom represents the company.
The company did computer work for state agencies during Republican Gov. Bob Riley's administration.
Mask reports Windom's payments to the state Ethics Commission each year. The payments started in the range of $1,000 to $10,000 in 2005 and then rose to the range of $10,000 to $50,000 in 2006, according to his ethics forms.
Defense lawyers said they wanted to ask about Windom's payments because Windom has lobbied for the Mobile dog track, where the Poarch Creek Indians own the controlling interest. The Creeks' also operate a casino in Mask's district. That casino in Wetumpka is not regulated by the state and has thrived since McGregor's state-regulated casino in Shorter was forced to close last year by the governor's gambling task force. The task force maintained the games were illegal slots.
In a phone interview with The Associated Press, Windom said his referral fees to Mask began before the dog track became a lobbying client and before Mask ran for the Legislature. He said the payments varied from year to year, but were "on the low end of the $10,000 to $50,000 annually.
Prosecutors said the next witness scheduled in the trial is the organizer for Mask's fundraising dinner, Debbie Moore.