Monday, June 6, 2011

Bingo Trial: The Geddie Charge

The following is something I wrote for my web-page not long after the bingo indictments came down. It's an analysis of the "obstruction of justice" charge against lobbyist Bob Geddie. As far as I can tell, nothing has occurred on this part of the case to significantly alter what I wrote back in October. In all, Geddie faces, in addition to the obstruction charge, one count of conspiracy, one count of federal program bribery,  and 11 counts of honest services mail and wire fraud. 
Also, Geddie took a leave from Fine & Geddie not long after being indicted.

Bob Geddie

       In my few encounters with Bob Geddie I've found him a friendly, easygoing man -- a tall, tanned, nice looking and nattily-dressed guy who seems to have it all. He and his partner, Joe Fine, head the state's most successful lobbying firm. Ethics disclosures show that Fine Geddie & Associates represents almost 50 clients before the legislature. That list includes political powerhouses like the Alabama Nursing Home Association, Alabama Power, Alfa Insurance, and AT&T. Those are just some of A's. Get into the B's and you've got Blue Cross, and so on and so on.
       Fine & Geddie also represents Milton McGregor's dog-tracks.
       First, the background to the charge, as laid out in the indictment:
       In mid-February (2010), McGregor called a member of the state house of representatives identified in the indictment as, "Legislator 3."
       McGregor hadn't spoken to #3 in two years, and the lawmaker was of the belief that McGregor had backed his opponent in a previous election.
          #3 -- reportedly Republican Barry Mask of Wetumpka -- returned McGregor' call. During the conversation, the latter offered "significant
campaign contributions (to Mask) in return for a favorable vote (by Mask) on bingo legislation."
        If that's an accurate description of McGregor's offer, it was an illegal one -- with McGregor directly connecting contributions with official action. That's called a "quid pro quo" -- Latin for, "something for something." Doesn't matter if he's offering cash stuffed in a brown bag or political donations. It's against the law either way.
         McGregor noted that it wouldn't be in the Republican's political interest for it to be known that he accepted campaign contributions from
the gaming industry. This was a problem easily solved, McGregor said.
         "I can get you significant help in your campaign not from me, from people that I have a great working relationship with, business type people. That some of them that you could never get by yourself.”
       Mask asked if the contributions would be in the apparently wimpy “500 or a couple of thousand” dollars range.
      "Oh no," answered McGregor. "I said significant help. . . . I can and will get you significant help from people that fall in this category. That’s
the commitment I’ll make to you right now and it’s as good as, as, as, as any commitment you will ever get. I will do it, and I will prove it to you.”
       The presentation of McGregor's verbiage in the indictment -- especially the awkward, "as good as, as, as, as any commitment" bit -- suggests
that Mask, apparently suspicious of any call from McGregor, taped the call himself, on his own and prior to contacting the FBI and wearing a wire
as part of the investigation. That's speculation, but seems likely given the situation as described in the indictment.
       During the call, Mask presented McGregor with an opportunity to get started on the promise. He told McGregor that he was holding a
fund-raiser that very evening.
      Soon after hanging up with Mask, McGregor telephoned Geddie. He told the lobbyist about Mask's fundraiser and asked him to attend. Geddie
showed up that evening bearing two checks, both for $2,500, and both from political action committees (PACs) operated by Fine & Geddie.
      The next day, McGregor called Mask to apologize for missing the fundraiser, but made sure the lawmaker knew that Geddie had attended on
his behalf and that he was the source of the PAC money.
     That's the backdrop for the meat of the obstruction/cover-up charge against Geddie.
      Soon after the Mask fundraiser, Geddie -- as described in the indictment -- directed an employee of his firm to "record the two checks he delivered to Legislator 3 as attributable to MCGREGOR in a contribution ledger maintained by GEDDIE’s lobbying business."
         From this, we can infer that the FBI questioned the unidentified employee and, one supposes reluctantly, the employee revealed that directive
and another from Geddie.
        A point to keep in mind: Lying to the FBI/federal prosecutors and/or providing false records in response to a subpoena can land you in jail even if you had nothing to hide and wouldn't otherwise have faced charges.
        Fast forward to April 1 (2010). That's the day it became publicly known that the Justice Department was investigating the use of potentially illegal
tactics by the gaming industry to win passage of the bingo legislation. After that day -- and this is made clear in the indictment -- many of the future
defendants, Geddie included, feared that their phones were being tapped and that some legislators might be wearing wires.
       Geddie subsequently directed his employee to alter the contribution ledger to reflect that two other donors were the actual sources of the contributions to Mask, not McGregor.
       According to the indictment, neither of the donors identified on the altered ledger authorized or were aware of the donations to Mask.
      When the feds issued a grand jury subpoena for Fine & Geddie's contribution records Geddie -- according to the indictment -- "caused
to be produced to law enforcement officials the altered contribution ledgers."
     The decision to question Geddie's employee and the donors listed ledgers as having provided the two $2,500 contributions to Mask reflects considerable creativity and attention to detail by the agents/prosecutors working the case.
       The lobbyist obviously did not expect that to happen.
       As a result of that work, the career of Bob Geddie -- a true legend in Montgomery -- could end with a prison sentence for "obstructing justice."

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