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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Preuitt: "I never engaged with anyone to make deals"


State Sen. Jim Preuitt said Tuesday he has talked to agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Alabama Bureau of Investigation about his votes on electronic bingo bills before the Alabama Senate.
Preuitt, who filed Friday to run as a Republican after five terms as a Democrat, changed his vote on the bill, which had been drastically altered by the sponsor, Democratic Sen. Roger Bedford of Russellville. Preuitt said the first bill was terrible.
Preuitt, in talking about his vote, said the first bill "forgave wrongdoing," "forgave taxes" and was "very cumbersome" at more than 40 pages. He also mentioned that the first bill set up 10 points of destination where casinos would be located.
"The new bill is much more simple," Preuitt said.
He said he "never engaged with anyone to make deals" for his vote.
Preuitt, who represents all or part of Talladega, Coosa, Elmore and Calhoun counties, said a lobbyist who was approached by state and federal investigators just hours after the vote talked to him in the halls about the bill, but that Jarrod Massey never tried to bribe him.
State and federal investigators and prosecutors met with several top lawmakers on Thursday to inform them there was substantial evidence of corruption involved in the vote on Bedford's bill in the Senate.
The Senate approved the bill 21-13 on March 30. Bedford's first attempt to bring up the legislation for debate failed, but he drastically altered it from more than 40 pages to down to eight.
Agents approached Massey at his home at 8 a.m. the morning after the vote, according to his attorneys.
Agents have also talked to Sen. Bobby Denton, D-Muscle Shoals, who also changed his vote. Denton talked to the media in his hometown on Sunday and said the questions asked about him and possible bribes, and the critical e-mails from people were hurtful and infuriated him.
Preuitt said he was approached on Thursday and was first contacted by an ABI agent.
"I had no idea what it was about," he said.
Massey's political action committees have contributed $2,000 to Preuitt this election cycle. The senator said those were in December and that he does not believe he has received any contributions from gaming interests this year including while the Senate was working on the bingo legislation, before or after he changed his vote.
When asked if Massey tried to sway his vote with possible political contributions, Preuitt said "absolutely not."
"Jarrod has not put any pressure on me. I vote my convictions," the senator said.
Massey's clients include Country Crossing near Dothan, which has a bingo pavilion, and its developer, Ronnie Gilley. Massey's firm, Mantra Governmental, also represents a variety of other entities including corrections officers and those with interests in education.
State Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, told several media outlets that he talked to investigators over the weekend and claims Massey approached him while he was a candidate in the special election for his seat and said he had two clients willing to contribute $125,000 each if he supported electronic bingo legislation.
Sanford, according to the Associated Press, said Massey told him there was no quid pro quo, but they wanted to know his stand on electronic bingo bills.
Sanford, who was elected in a special election last year to fill a vacant seat, voted against the electronic bingo legislation.
"Our client denies ever having a conversation with any legislator in which he offered campaign contributions in exchange for a vote on the bingo bill," Massey's attorneys, Brett Bloomston and Joe Basgier of Birmingham, said in a statement.
The attorneys and some top Democratic lawmakers, which have written letters to the U.S. Department of Justice, have said the investigation is political and intended to have a cooling effect on the vote in the House of Representatives, which has yet to take up the bill, which would legalize, tax, and regulate electronic bingo in the state.
State Rep. Jay Love, a Montgomery Republican who opposes the legislation, said he believes the investigation will have an effect on the House vote. He does not believe the legislation will pass.
"There were a lot of people on the fence who will be voting 'no' now," Love said.

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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South Union Street is the blog of Montgomery Advertiser political reporters Markeshia Ricks and Sebastian Kitchen. Always check here for the latest on the Legislature, elections and other activities and players in Alabama.

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