Country Crossing owner Ronnie Gilley spent all day on the stand today testifying for the prosecution. Gilley was asked to speak on a number of FBI wiretaps from his cell phone, most of which pertained to conversations with Sen. Harri Anne Smith.
Smith is heard on tape asking Gilley to "bleed money" to her. Her campaign didn't want to accept money from Ronnie Gilley directly so Gilley "swapped checks" with PACs to cover up the source of the donations. The money went through the Real Democrat PAC, the Tennessee Valley Citizens for Economic Development PAC, the Progress for Alabama PAC and the Senate Majority PAC. Smith is heard on tapes asking for the donations as campaign contributions but never mentions specifically pledging her vote to gambling interests. These donations were spread out over a large period of time. The first was to come in the form of two checks for $20,000 each Gilley said he gave to Jarrod Massey for Sen. Smith.
Gilley told the court after she was presented with the checks Smith stopped by his office and said "Thank you, I'm yours." This conversation was not recorded.
Gilley admitted this was not the first time he had "given money to a lawmaker for their support." He admitted to giving $20,000 to former Rep. Terry Spicer. Spicer reportedly asked Gilley for $50,000.
Gilley also detailed to the court a run-in he had with Sen. Jimmy Holley. Holley had originally been trying to pass a bill that would put limits on counties that could have bingo...Houston County, home of Country Crossing, was not one of the counties. Gilley expressed his frustrations to Holley, Holley told Gilley in a later meeting that he changed the paragraph Gilley took issue with. Gilley said he took issue with far more in the bill than just one paragraph. When Gilley asked Holley why he gave special considerations to Macon County, home of Milton McGregor's gaming facilities as opposed to Houston County, Holley denied any relationship with Milton McGregor. Gilley says he snatched Holley's cell phone away from him accusing him of having McGregor on speed dial. Gilley gave the phone back to Holley and Holley called McGregor. When they reached McGregor's voicemail Holley then called "Tom Coker or Bob Geddie. I can't recall who it was...just one of the two." Gilley told Holley if he voted against him he (Gilley) would make sure that Holley was not re-elected.
In later testimony Gilley described the start of his relationship with Milton McGregor. He explained that they started off at odds, but eventually agreed on the common goal of advancing gaming in Alabama. Gilley says they later began to call Country Crossing "our project." McGregor agreed to help finance the project and he would get a portion of the profits from Country Crossing's bingo operation. In total, Gilley said he accepted more than $13 million from McGregor. In the end, Country Crossing was only open for seven and a half weeks, not long enough to earn a profit.
Just before the lunch break Gilley started detailing more of his involvement with Sen. Smith. Gilley said at a campaign fundraiser dinner Smith asked if he and McGregor would be able to contribute $500,000 to her campaign. Gilley told her they could work it out. Gilley told the court this agreement was made to secure a yes vote on bingo legislation from Smith. This conversation was not recorded.
Earlier in our blog postings, back when Sen. Scott Beason was on the witness stand he detailed a fight between Ronnie Gilley and Rep. Ben Lewis over the legislation at a campaign dinner for Sen. Smith. Gilley talked about that exchange and a conversation afterwards where he, point blank, says he offered a bribe of money to Lewis in exchange for his yes vote on the bingo legislation. He said Lewis turned him down. It is very important to note that this is the first time so far in the trial the word bribe has been mentioned.
The prosecution asked Gilley to explain the details of his plea agreement to the court. Attorney Franklin asked "After your arrest you were very vocal about your innocence, weren't you?" Gilley said yes, he was very vocal. But he lied. "I changed my plea because I am guilty of the charges that were brought against me." As written in his plea agreement Gilley must fully cooperate with the government and in return he MAY see a downgrade in his time to serve. All in all Gilley is facing more than 20 years in jail. Gilley explained the deal was very one-sided favoring the government. Gilley also detailed why his bond was revoked. He told the court he attempted to bribe Massey to support himself and the other defendants in this case and in return Massey would get a 1% interest in Country Crossing. It was Judge Thompson who granted Gilley's release from custody.
After lunch Gilley explained he threw the "10 for 10" fundraiser for Sen. Smith's campaign fund. $10 got the person into a country music concert to support Sen. Smith's 2010 run for congress. While Gilley couldn't remember how much money the event raised, he said he spent more than $217,000 on in-kind contributions for the event. Gilley said that money came from a $5 million loan issued to him by Milton McGregor to use as he pleased for the event and other matters. Gilley said Sen. Smith later contacted him and asked if she could contact McGregor on her own because she "knew" of Gilley's financial problems and McGregor's financial backing. Smith is heard on tape discussing her knowledge of Sen. Beason's "offer" and voting plan. Smith told Gilley over the phone it would take $500,000 to buy Beason's vote. In regards to getting Beason's vote, Gilley said when discussing the offer with McGregor, McGregor allegedly said "Go get 'em big boy. We gotta have him." In a later tape, closer to the vote, McGregor can be heard telling Gilley to hold off on Beason, "What I'm thinking is, we shouldn't need him. . . If he comes to you, he'll probably realize we don't need him. Know what I mean? Yeah, F*** him."
On yet another tape Sen. Smith is heard specifically asking Gilley for $400,000 to "finish up the campaign." She also mentioned a previous contribution of $220,000. Smith told him to "make the check out to the Tennessee Valley PAC." Gilley tells Smith she could count on him and she thanked him. Gilley told the court he pledged the money because he said he'd do whatever it took to get her re-elected and because she promised a yes vote on legislation.
Gilley told the court in total, he, along with his supporters, gave Sen. Smith more than $600,000 for her campaign. In a conversation, after Gilley agrees to sending money you hear Sen. Smith ask, "If you see something I need to be doing or if I'm doing something you don't like, be sure to call me and tell me."
After the judge dismissed Gilley and the jury for the day, Bill Baxley, attorney for Tom Coker entered a motion to dismiss count 33 of the indictment which he said was the wire fraud charge that "sounds ridiculous." It sounded like Baxley was arguing on technicality, the fraud was supposed to have taken place in Tennessee, however it was detailed during today's conversation that if it happened at all, it would have had to have occurred in Mississippi.
Judge Thompson told the court he would not dismiss charges in the middle of the case. He told Baxley to make the same motion at the end of testimony, before deliberation, and he would hear it again.
When Ronnie Gilley is finally done on the stand (may not be until well into next week) Bryant Raby will take the stand for the prosecution. Raby is the treasurer for the Tennessee Valley PAC mentioned earlier in the blog. The prosecution says they will be done with Gilley just before lunch tomorrow and cross examination of the witness by the defense should start tomorrow afternoon.