GOP Washed Campaign Money, Voters Say | Courthouse News Service
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GOP Washed Campaign Money, Voters Say

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (CN) - Alabama Republicans skirted state laws to help Native American political contributors eliminate "non-Indian gaming" and diverted $7.9 million from the BP oil spill fund to pay for gambling litigation, a mayor and voters claim in court.

Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford and five other residents of Macon County sued Attorney General Luther Strange and Gov. Robert Bentley, in Federal Court.

They claim that Indian casinos were able to "disguise millions of dollars of contributions through Republican-based nonprofit organizations" and that the money was "disguised in this manner to hide from the Alabama electorate that Republican candidates, whom they believed were opposed to all forms of gambling, were in fact taking millions of dollars from Indian gaming."

The plaintiffs, black voters and elected officials, claim that white Republican leaders overrode the will of voters in predominantly black Macon County and brought "economic devastation" to Tuskegee by cutting gambling revenue.

Macon County, pop. 21,452, is 81.5 percent black, according to the complaint, which cites U.S. Census data. Most elected officials and community leaders, including the sheriff of Macon County and the mayor of Tuskegee, are African-American.

"Beginning in 2003, white political leaders of the Alabama and National Republican Party ('Republicans'), including but not limited to Governor Bob Riley, initiated plans to elect white Republicans to the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government in the State of Alabama, allegedly referred to as 'Operation 2010,'" the complaint states.

"In order to raise funds to accomplish their goal, Alabama Republican leaders and elected officials entered into a scheme with the Mississippi Choctaw Indians Casino Operators ('Choctaws') and later the Alabama Poarch Band of Creek Indian Casino Operators ('Poarch Creeks') (hereinafter, collectively 'Indian gaming').

"This scheme included eliminating competition to Indian gaming from non-Indian gaming, including 'VictoryLand' located in Macon County, Alabama. Eliminating VictoryLand served the dual goals of both by providing Indian gaming a monopoly in Alabama and shutting off potential non-Indian gaming political contributions that Republican political leaders feared could be used to thwart their political plans.

"The Choctaws, and later the Poarch Creeks, were able to disguise millions of dollars of contributions through Republican-based nonprofit organizations, including but not limited to, the National Christian Coalition, the Alabama Christian Coalition, the Alabama-based Republican Governor's Association and other Republican-based Political Action Committees ('PACs').

"Indian gaming funds were disguised in this manner to hide from the Alabama electorate that Republican candidates, whom they believed were opposed to all forms of gambling, were in fact taking millions of dollars from Indian gaming."

In 2003, plaintiff Johnny Ford sponsored a local constitutional amendment which authorized nonprofit organizations to operate bingo games in Macon County, and appointed the sheriff to make and enforce the rules for it, according to the complaint.

Sixteen Alabama counties have passed similar amendments in the past 30 years, authorizing bingo operations.

Ford's amendment was passed in the Alabama Legislature and approved by 76 percent of the qualified voters in Macon County, according to the complaint.

After the amendment took effect in June 2004, 60 nonprofit organizations began operating electronic bingo games at VictoryLand, with the sheriff's and the attorney general's approval, the complaint states.

The games continued until 2008, when then-Gov. Bob Riley organized an "anti-gambling task force" and sought search warrants to seize the electronic bingo machines at VictoryLand.


Although Riley failed, and his task force leader resigned after being caught gambling on slot machines in Mississippi, the task force raided VictoryLand and seized bingo machines, without a warrant or court order, according to the complaint.

"At approximately 4:00 a.m. on Jan. 29, 2010, hundreds of armed Alabama State Troopers, Alabama Beverage Control Board agents, Alabama Bureau of Investigations agents, more than a dozen rented moving trucks, and three Department of Public Safety Mobile Units descended upon VictoryLand, with a helicopter circling above, all at the direction of [task force leader John] Tyson and without a search warrant," the complaint states.

"Tyson and his task force swarmed VictoryLand for the apparent purpose of tearing out, removing, and seizing more than 6,000 networked electronic bingo machines despite the fact that they had no search warrant authorizing them to do so and no neutral magistrate or judge had determined that probable cause existed for the search of VictoryLand or for the seizure of the electronic bingo machines and related property.

"Tyson and the task force under his direction ordered VictoryLand's patrons to leave the premises, causing confusion, intimidation and unease among the hundreds of patrons inside, and effectively closing VictoryLand's operations, including those operations unrelated to electronic bingo."

A judge temporarily halted the raid, but the Alabama Supreme Court lifted the injunction, according to the complaint.

The plaintiffs claim that after VictoryLand stopped operating electronic bingo in 2010, revenue at Poarch Creek casinos increased by 61 percent, at a time when Indian gambling revenue nationwide was in decline.

They claim the defendants received substantial political contributions for supporting the gambling monopoly.

"According to campaign finance reports, Strange accepted $100,000 laundered through political action committees from the Poarch Creek Casino operators in his bid for attorney general," the complaint states.

"Attorney General Strange was elected by the people of the State of Alabama on Nov. 2, 2010.

"Defendant Strange began acting as the de facto attorney general well before he was sworn in to office on Jan. 17, 2011. Mr. Strange met with representatives of bingo operators, representatives of electronic machine manufacturers, and others prior to taking office to discourage them from operating lawful bingo games.

"On Jan. 14, 2011, on his last day in office, Governor Bob Riley transferred $7.9 million of BP Oil Spill recovery money to the attorney general's fund. Governor Riley did not alert the incumbent attorney general or the incoming governor that he was transferring the BP Oil Spill funds. Instead, Bob Riley and Luther Strange agreed that Strange would use the BP Oil funds for litigation expenses related to gambling cases."

Strange forced major electronic bingo-machine vendors to move their machines from VictoryLand to the Poarch Creeks' casinos, the plaintiffs claim.

After taking office in January 2011, Bentley disbanded the anti-gambling task force, but gave the attorney general power to oversee and enforce gambling laws in the whole state, overriding the sheriff's authority in Macon County, according to the complaint.

The plaintiffs say that Poarch Creek casinos continued to increase their revenue and expand their facilities, taking more business away from VictoryLand.

They claim that Strange tried to block VictoryLand from getting a liquor license, and applied for a new search warrant to seize its money and property.

After a circuit judge denied his request, for lack of probable cause, the Alabama Supreme Court ordered the judge to sign a search warrant, according to the complaint.

In February this year, Strange's agents seized another 1,600 electronic bingo machines and more than $220,000 in cash from VictoryLand, and damaged machines and other property, the complaint states.

The plaintiffs, who seek to represent all Macon County voters, claim the defendants perpetuate Alabama's historical discrimination against African Americans by taking away their right to "exercise home rule in their respective counties," and cutting their sources of revenue.

They seek an injunction and a declaration that the defendants violated the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.

They are represented by Donald LaRoche of Brockton, Mass.

The other plaintiffs are Macon County Commission Chairman Louis Maxwell, Macon County Board of Education President Theodore Samuel, Tuskegee Repertory Theatre Director Dyann Robinson, Tuskegee NAACP President Barbara Howard, and former VictoryLand employee Willie Patterson.

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