Tuesday, June 7, 2011

McGregor's Fox in the Henhouse

I wrote, "McGregor's Fox in the Henhouse" for my web-page, EddieCurran.Com, shortly after the bingo indictments came down in October. The column, reprinted here, is an analysis of the government's case against Joseph Crosby, a lawyer for the state legislature who is accused of accepting bribes from dogtrack owner Milton McGregor. Back in October, I cited the apparent strength of the case against Crosby in all but predicting that he would enter into a plea agreement and testify against McGregor. Though I suppose that option remains open to Crosby, it appears that prognostication missed the mark.

JOSEPH CROSBY (Birmingham News photo)

       Government employees are forever belittled as bureaucrats, a word ripe with stereotype that I don't care for. In my experience "bureaucrats" often act as a bulwark against public corruption, far more likely to serve as sources reporting malfeasance than participating in it. Most government employees I've met are friendly, bright, honest and hard-working.
       An exception -- at least as regards the honesty part -- would seem to be Joseph Crosby. He is a 61-year-old lawyer and upper-level employee of the Legislative Reference Service. That's the non-partisan research and bill-drafting arm of the state legislature. When a senator or representative wants to propose a bill, he or she goes to the Legislative Reference Service. Someone like Crosby essentially translates the legislator's wishes into bill form, with all the required legalese.
        The Crosby charge is different from the other counts against McGregor in that it alleges bribery of a state employee, not a politician, and involves, not campaign contributions, but payments to the employee. In return, or so the government alleges, Crosby helped McGregor manipulate the drafting of legislation that would govern the operations of gaming in Alabama.
       The indictment presents all manner of threats to McGregor, but for two reasons, the Crosby charge appears the most dangerous in the government's arsenal against the Bingo Magnate.
       The first is that it alleges payments to a public official, not a candidate's campaign. The bribery laws make little distinction between the two, but people -- jurors, for example -- generally take a harsher view of payments, cash or otherwise, than to campaign contributions.
      The second reason for McGregor to fear: Crosby would be a fool not to seek a plea deal. Unless he can justify accepting secret payments from McGregor -- and it's hard to imagine how -- then prosecutors have him dead to rights. If Crosby rolls the dice, goes to trial and loses, he could easily receive a sentence in the five-year range.
       However, considering his value to the government as a cooperating witness -- a potential silver bullet in the government's case against McGregor -- a cooperating Crosby could expect a sentence of about a year, give or take six months in either direction.
         With Crosby, McGregor had a fox in the henhouse.
         On one occasion, Crosby contradicted the specific directives of an anti-gaming state senator whose proposals could have harmed
McGregor's business. The legislation had been assigned to another staffer but Crosby, using his seniority, took over the drafting of the bill.
       When the senator noticed Crosby had failed to follow his wishes, he ordered the state employee to re-do it.
       According to the indictment, from May 2008 to April 2010, McGregor "caused to be issued monthly checks in the amount of
$3,000, totaling $72,000, made payable to CROSBY....who was prohibited from receiving income in addition to his State of Alabama salary for his official assistance."
        The checks -- don't ask me why, I suppose because they were exercising some combination of brazenness and stupidity -- were written on Macon County Greyhound Park checks, made payable to Crosby, and sent to his home.
        The indictment presents numerous examples showing Crosby serving McGregor, not the taxpayers funding his $160,000 salary. It describes Crosby sending McGregor and the lawyer drafts of legislation, and making changes dictated to him, not by the legislators he served, but by McGregor.
        What follows are several interesting examples from the indictment, presented verbatim (thus allowing me to be lazy by not summarizing/condensing them, but also to give readers a feel for how federal corruption indictments read). Words in black are mine:

        168. On or about March 4, 2010, MCGREGOR, through his lawyer, gave specific instructions for CROSBY to make changes to SB380 (the bingo legislation, called, "The Sweet Home Alabama" bill.)
        169. On or about March 7, 2010, CROSBY told MCGREGOR his work on SB380 had been “pretty exhausting.” 
In response, MCGREGOR stated, “I wanted to thank you for staying on top of everything and, and, uh, responding to working with us.”
        170. On or about March 8, 9, and 10, 2010, CROSBY directed an employee of the Legislative Reference Service to transmit updated drafts of SB380 to MCGREGOR. 
        171. "On or about March 10, 2010, CROSBY promised MCGREGOR that he would make changes to SB380 and get the agreement of the bill’s Senate sponsor. During the conversation, MCGREGOR told CROSBY, “I appreciate your efforts, big man,” before asking him to “jog [his] memory” regarding proposed changes to the bill.
       172. On or about March 11, 2010, MCGREGOR told (Montgomery lobbyist and McGregor co-defendant Tom) COKER that CROSBY, along with MCGREGOR’s lawyer and the sponsor of the legislation (the sponsor was State Sen. Roger Bedford), “fixed” some language in SB380 that would affect MCGREGOR’s tax liability.

      That last bit -- about McGregor's tax liability -- is interesting and, probably for the prosecution, important. The gambling folks -- McGregor his minions, legislators included -- were forever telling the public and the media that one of the chief benefits of the "Sweet Home Alabama" legislation was to generate huge sums of taxes for Alabama. It appears, from the above, that not only McGregor, but Roger Bedford (unindicted, at least for now) and a state employee being paid by McGregor were working to limit the taxes to be paid by the Bingo Magnate's operations.
       Bedford's use of his position to limit McGregor's tax liability should be shocking, but it's not. (This suggests a blog idea: A simple categorization of Roger Bedford's dubious acts over the past 20 or so years...it would be VERY long blog.)
       Back to the indictment:
       173. On March 11, 2010, MCGREGOR asked SB380’s sponsor to talk to MCGREGOR’s lawyer, who “knows more about my finances than I do,” in an effort to amend the bill in a way that would reduce MCGREGOR’s tax liability under the legislation."
     174. On or about March 11, 2010, and March 12, 2010, CROSBY directed an employee of the Legislative Reference Service to transmit updated drafts of SB380 to MCGREGOR.
     175. On or about March 12, 2010, in a telephone call with CROSBY, MCGREGOR provided specific provisions that were to be included in a revised SB380 and urged CROSBY to speed up the drafting process so that his legislation would advance before bills proposed by other legislators.
      176. Later that same day, on or about March 12, 2010, referencing a proposed tax provision in SB380, MCGREGOR assured COKER that “we ain’t gonna pay no higher tax.”
     177. On or about March 14, 2010, MASSEY told GILLEY (Country Crossing developer Ronnie Gilley, who has pleaded guilty and will testify at trial) that any proposed pro-gambling legislation would go through CROSBY, and that CROSBY could be expected to report any such legislative developments to MCGREGOR.

     Two unfortunate fact issues would seem to encourage Crosby to fold rather than fight.
     He was paid a salary of $160,000 -- a sum that would seem to make the secret McGregor bonuses all the more inexcusable. Even more problematic was Crosby's failure to report the McGregor stipends on his annual financial disclosures with the Alabama Ethic Commission.
       In July, the feds issued a subpoena to the Legislative Reference Service, seeking all manner of records, such as drafts of the bingo legislation. Soon after, Crosby amended his past reports to include the McGregor money. Reporting the receipt of illegal funds doesn't magically render them legal, but not reporting them, and getting caught, makes it all the more illegal, if you know what I mean.
      Crosby and his lawyers will certainly weigh those matters when making the momentous decision to plea and testify against King Bingo or risk going before a jury.

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