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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Lobbyists, Legislators Visit Grand Jury on Day One

Six of the estimated 60 or more legislators who have allegedly been summoned to testify before the grand jury about possible vote buying on a bingo bill made appearances at the federal courthouse in Montgomery Tuesday.

Lobbyist Tom Coker and media consultants Rick Heartsill and Bert Danner, all of whom count Victoryland casino owner Milton McGregor as a client also were asked to come to court to submit documents. Lobbyist for the Porch Creek Band of Indians, John Teague, also provided documents to the grand jury. They did not, however, testify before the federal grand jury.

State Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose, who had the distinction of being the first lawmaker to go before the grand jury Tuesday said he was asked general questions about how the legislative process worked, particularly as it relates to lobbyists and political action committees.

He said he also was asked whether he was promised a campaign contribution, or political plum in exchange for an affirmative vote on a bill that would have legalized electronic bingo. "They seemed to want to see how steadfast my opposition was," he said. Pittman was one of the 13 votes against the bingo bill the day that it made it out of the Senate.

In addition to Pittman, Senators Ben Brooks, R-Mobile, Charles Bishop, R-Jasper, Phil Poole, D-Tuscaloosa, testifed on Tuesday. State Rep. Jim Barton, R-Mobile, also testifed. All of the men voted no in the Senate, or would have been no votes if the bill had reached the House floor.

State Rep. Mac Gipson, R-Prattville, was scheduled to testify Tuesday, but got bumped to Wednesday, because time had run out. He will join Speaker of the House Seth Hammett, who also is slated to testify also.

Gipson said he has no idea why he was subpoenaed. He is a member of the House Tourism and Travel Committee, which ultimately voted the Senate version of the bill out of committee on a voice vote, which positioned it to be voted on by the full House of Representatives.

Gipson and state Rep. Joe Faust, R-Fairhope, both voted against the bill in committee. State Rep. Barry Mask, R-Wetumpka, who also serves on that committee, has been subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury. Mask was absent from the committee on the day that vote was taken.

Though Gipson said he doesn’t think that federal prosecutors are on any kind of fishing expedition. He believes that they already have something concrete.¶

"I don’t think they would go through all this effort and spend all this time if they didn’t," he said. "If they are, the federal government is more inefficient than I thought."

For the full story check out Wednesday's Montgomery Advertiser.

-- posted by Markeshia Ricks

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Location: Montgomery, AL, United States

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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