News Analysis By: John Zippert, Co-Publisher
The Greene County Democrat has learned that Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange has filed a sealed motion in an upcoming case of “perjury and lying” by members of his staff or law enforcement agents assigned to him, who were involved in the second raid of gaming facilities in Greene County in June 2011.
Attorney General Strange has taken prosecution of a Greene County indictment against members of his staff away from local District Attorney Greg Griggers. Strange’s actions raise questions of ethics and the appearance of a conflict of interest by the highest law enforcement agent in Alabama, with regard to his efforts to stop the gaming industry in the county.
This action follows Luther Strange’s pattern of operation in Greene County by ignoring and trampling on the voting rights of Greene County’s Black majority population. Governor Robert Bentley, who initially said he would not interfere in gaming in Greene and other counties, has tacitly supported the Attorney General’s attack on bingo operations around the state.
Background of the case
In 2003, the voters of Greene County approved, by an overwhelming majority, Alabama Constitutional Amendment 743 which allows for playing “bingo and electronic bingo” by charitable organizations in the county, under the supervision of the Sheriff of Greene County. Greene County has the only amendment in Alabama, which explicitly allows for the playing of electronic forms of bingo. The Sheriff has had an independent gaming authority to certify that the machines used at Greenetrack and other facilities are playing “bingo” in accordance with the requirements of Amendment 743.
On May 31, 2011, Luther Strange assisted by Lieutenant Gary Michael Reese of the Alabama Beverage Control Board, Richard Allen, Esquire, Chief Deputy Attorney General, Henry T. Reagan, Esquire, Deputy Attorney General and Desmond C. Ladner, an expert in gambling retained by the Attorney General, secured search warrants from Special Circuit Judge Houston L. Brown of Jefferson County to raid Greenetrack and Frontier Gaming for having illegal gaming machines.
The Alabama Supreme Court appointed Judge Houston L. Brown as a “Special Circuit Judge for Greene County” because Luther Strange forced 17th Circuit Judge Eddie Hardaway of Livingston to recuse himself from these cases. The voters of Greene, Sumter and Marengo counties elected Judge Hardaway.
Judge Brown subsequently held a hearing in July 2011 on the return of the bingo gaming machines and over $93,000 in cash seized in the raid and ruled in favor of Greenetrack and later Frontier for return of the machines and money. Luther Strange on behalf of the State of Alabama appealed this ruling to the Court of Criminal Appeals.
In his ruling, which is filed in the Greene County Circuit Clerk’s office, Judge Brown says: “It is apparent the State presented statements which are clearly false, misleading, or were made with a reckless disregard for the truth. Moreover, the testimony recounted in the affidavit and presented to the Court in chambers by the State’s gambling expert must be disregarded. Once the affidavit’s false material is set to one side, the remaining content is insufficient to establish probable cause.”
Judge Brown’s ruling is a devastating attack on the credibility of Luther Strange’s staff in this case: ABC Agent Reese, attorneys Richard Allen and Henry T. Reagan and gambling expert, Desmond C. Ladner. Judge Brown points out in his ruling that Ladner lacks the qualifications as a “softwear engineer or engineer of any kind” to render judgments about the bingo machines used in Greene County. Ladner, assisted by Agent Reese and Attorney Reagan, testified that the machines were “slot machines” which were the basis of Brown’s original ruling for the search warrant and raid which he reverses and orders return of the machines and cash.
After the most recent March 2014 raid on Greene County bingo facilities, the Alabama Supreme Court, on appeal of Judge Brown’s rulings, overruled Judge Brown’s order to return the machines and cash. The 62 page order reaffirms the Supreme Court’s definition of bingo as “a game played on paper”, says the Greene County machines are slot machines and orders by writ of mandamus, District Judge Lillie Osborne to sign the search warrant for the latest raid. The Supreme Court, however, did not hold a hearing on the legality of Greene County Constitutional Amendment 743, where the people of Greene County could support their decisions to develop a gaming and tourist industry.
Greene County Grand Jury indicts Strange’s staff
In a separate recent legal proceeding, Greg Griggers, District Attorney for the 17th Judicial Circuit, secured an indictment of three persons on AG Luther Strange’s staff for “ perjury and lying”. These indictments were sealed until the persons were arrested.
The Democrat learned of these indictments in an interview with Luther Winn, CEO of Greenetrack, concerning the latest raid. Winn indicated that he knew first-hand about the misstatements of Strange’s staff members.
The Democrat contacted District Attorney Greg Griggers who confirmed that three people had been indicted in connection with the 2011 raid, Desmond C. Ladner, the “gaming expert” and two law enforcement officers connected with Strange’s staff.
Griggers said that in the course of arranging for the arrest and bond for the two law enforcement officials, he was informed by Luther Strange’s office that they were taking over the prosecution of these cases from Griggers. Under Alabama law, the State Attorney General has the right to supercede and take over prosecution of the cases of local District Attorneys.
Griggers could not comment on the propriety of the actions of Luther Strange in taking over these cases. He did say that Strange had filed a motion with the Greene County Circuit Clerk to quash these indictments. Griggers said he would file a motion alerting the court of the potential ethical violations of Strange taking over a case that involves people working on his staff or on his behalf.
Strange follows pattern of disrespect for Greene County voters
When the Democrat contacted Mattie Atkins, Greene County Circuit Clerk to see a copy of Strange’s motion, we were informed that the motion was sealed. The hearing on this case is now scheduled for next Wednesday, May 28, 2014. The hearing is open to the public.
These actions by Luther Strange follow the pattern of the State of Alabama in dealing with Greene County and Amendment 743. Winn argues that Greene County “has never had a day in court to determine if our Constitutional Amendment and operation of bingo is legal”. Strange, supported by the Alabama Supreme Court, former Governor Bob Riley and current Governor Robert Bentley, have consistently acted against Constitutional Amendment 743, including the latest raid which closed four bingo establishments, instantly unemploying over a thousand workers and cutting off over a quarter of a million dollars a month in support for the Greene County school board, county government, four municipal governments and other non-profit charitable organizations.
Strange has also disrespected and disregarded the voting rights of Greene countians by manipulating the judicial process to ignore, circumvent or force public officials elected by Greene County voters to do his bidding. Among the Greene County officials that he has worked around include: Greene County Sheriff’s Isom Thomas and Jonathan Bennison, Circuit Judge Eddie Hardaway, District Judge Lillie Osborne and District Attorney Gregg Griggers.
“This issue has become one of voting rights and the wishes of Greene County voters. It is no longer just about bingo,” says Luther Winn and many other community leaders in Greene County. “We are tired of Luther Strange discounting our elected officials and our votes for a gaming industry,” said Rev. John Kennard, a member of the Concerned Clergy of Greene County. Spiver Gordon, civil rights leader, says “the Federal government needs to step in and look at the way Luther Strange is overriding the voting rights of Greene County, a majority Black county, that has been electing Black officials since the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Reflecting on Strange’s latest actions, Luther Winn suggested, “It seems that every time we get close to a real day in court for Amendment 743, Riley or Bentley and especially Strange intervenes in a way to stop us. Apparently he has hijacked the legal process again with a secret motion to quash our efforts to make his staff accountable for their misleading and hurtful actions in Greene County.”
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TagsAffordable Care Act Alabama New South Coalition ANSC Attorney General Eric Holder Bingo disbursement Black Belt Community Foundation CFO Paula Bird Civil Rights Movement Congresswoman Terri A. Sewell Dr. Martin Luther King Eutaw City Council Eutaw Mayor Hattie Edwards Eutaw Mayor Raymond Steele Federation of Southern Cooperatives /Land Assistance Fund Fund First Lady Michelle Obama Frontier (Dream George Zimmerman Green Charity (Center for Rural Family Development) Greene County Board of Education Greene County Commission Greene County Commissioner Greene County High School Greene County School System Greene County Sheriff Jonathan Benison Greenetrack Greenetrack Bingo Inc John Zippert Jr. Leo Branch Mayor Hattie Edwards Mayor Raymond Steele Mitt Romney NAACP Nelson Mandela President Barack Obama President Obama Ralph Paige Rev. Al Sharpton SCLC Senator Hank Sanders Superintendent Emma Louie Trayvon Martin Vice President Joe Biden Voting Rights Act