FBI probes alleged gambling houses in Jefferson County

ENewsCourier.com on March 19, 2012 released the following:

“Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The FBI’s gambling corruption investigation in Montgomery wasn’t the only one going on at the same time in Alabama.

The FBI was recording phone calls and meetings in Jefferson County a few months after it did the same thing in Montgomery. Court records show one Jefferson County businessman has agreed to plead guilty and several other people are under investigation over electronic bingo machines installed in the small town of Kimberly, 20 miles north of Birmingham.

Kimberly Mayor Craig Harris said Monday he initiated the investigation and is glad he can finally talk about his role. He worked as an informant who let the FBI record his phone calls and meetings, including ones where he received cash payoffs from gambling operators in return for police protection.

“There wasn’t any fear behind it because I was doing the right thing from the start,” the 38-year-old mayor said.

But he said he regretted he couldn’t be straightforward with constituents in the town of 1,800 when they called to complain about him doing nothing about the illegal operations.

“There were several calls about, ‘Why aren’t you doing anything?'” he said.

The Kimberly investigation and the Montgomery investigation were both run out of Washington by the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section. But they differed dramatically in size. One involved thousands of machines and millions in offers. The other involved dozens of machines and thousands in payoffs.

Justice Department spokesman Laura Sweeney said Monday she could not comment about the ongoing investigation in Jefferson County.

The Montgomery case involved two huge electronic bingo casinos in Dothan and Shorter. The Dothan operator, his two lobbyists and a former legislator pleaded guilty and will be sentenced in July and August. The operator, Ronnie Gilley, admitted offering millions in bribes to get votes for pro-gambling legislation in 2010.

The operation in Jefferson County involved at least four houses in and around Kimberly that had eight to 10 electronic bingo machines each and operated 24 hours a day as makeshift gambling halls, the mayor said.

He said one of the operators approached him on a Saturday in 2010 with an offer of about $150 a week to keep the Kimberly police away and provide notice if there was going to be a crackdown. He contacted the state attorney general’s office on Monday morning to report the offer and was meeting the next day with representatives of the attorney general and FBI to set up the undercover operation.

He said he started collecting $150 weekly payments for one gambling business and then added others, eventually collecting several thousand dollars while the FBI recorded the payoffs in late 2010 and early 2011. The mayor said he handed over all the money to the FBI each week.

Federal court records filed late last week show that Daniel “Boone” Stone of Morris has agreed to plead guilty Thursday to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery and operating an illegal gambling business. In return for his cooperation, federal prosecutors agreed to recommend a prison sentence of six to 12 months and a fine of $2,000 to $20,000.

Stone’s attorney, Scott Morro, said his client played a minor role in the case and wanted to put it behind him by reaching a plea deal.

“I guess my guy is a Gilley,” he said, referring to the casino developer who pleaded guilty in Montgomery and helped prosecutors.

Morro said federal prosecutors told him they had built a case on taped recordings, but he had not heard them.

Court documents filed in his case describe at least five others involved in the gambling businesses, and one of the houses they used was owned by Stone’s father. The father was not named, and Morro said he hopes the father will remain out of the case.

The court papers say the machines came from a convenience store owner in Gardendale and a club owner from Warrior, but they are not identified by name.

The mayor said sheriff’s deputies raided the gambling hall that was in the Stone home in 2011, and the others closed voluntarily. He said he knew Daniel Stone because he was part-owner of an IGA grocery store in Kimberly that has since closed, and the other alleged co-conspirators were friends or acquaintances who lived in the area. He said he can’t identify them because the investigation is ongoing.

This is not the first time Kimberly has had a gambling issue. In May 2008, police seized 189 gambling machines, valued at more than $1 million, from a warehouse. They destroyed them in 2011 after winning a three-year legal battle with the owner.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
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