Last week I shared with you some observations from the gambling trial playing out in Montgomery. This week I would like to further elaborate on the amazing lack of evidence the prosecution has offered against most of the defendants. Ironically, the taped conversations offered by the young inexperienced prosecution team flown in from Washington often exonerate the defendants rather than incriminating them.

The perfect example of this backfiring occurred in the prosecution’s attempt to implicate former State Senator Jim Preuitt. It is a well known fact among Goat Hill observers that Jim Preuitt is a wealthy self-made man with a quiet, reserved and thoughtful demeanor. When the indictments were handed down the media seized on the sensational accusation that Preuitt had been offered and accepted a million dollar bribe. My first impression was that this seemed ludicrous. Knowing Jim Preuitt very well, I knew that he would not accept a bribe and, furthermore, he did not need a million dollars.

My assumption was confirmed in court by the prosecution. The young prosecutor came to the podium and referred to Jim Preuitt as “James Preuitt,” illustrating that her only exposure to the case is a file. She proceeded to prove Preuitt’s innocence by calling the government witness, Jarrod Massey, to testify against Preuitt. Allow me to remind you that Massey already pled guilty and the jury has been informed that he is a government witness only because he has been offered a reduced sentence to testify. His credibility is further diminished when he arrives shackled and in a prison jumpsuit.

Massey testified that the offer of a bribe to Preuitt was only a proposed scheme concocted by his scurrilous boss, Ronnie Gilley, to make an offer to buy a million dollars of Ford trucks from one of Preuitt’s car dealerships. Mind you, even if the offer had been made to Preuitt, he would not have made a million dollars off the purchase but more like $35,000. In the taped conversations, Massey tells Gilley that this approach will not work because Preuitt is above reproach and would be highly insulted by such an offer. Therefore, the government tape proved that Preuitt was never offered a bribe, much less accepted one. Regardless, Preuitt has shamelessly been subjected to meritless accusations and been forced to endure over a year of extreme consternation and humiliation, not to mention exorbitant legal fees.

The other three State Senators also have to wonder why they are sitting in a Montgomery federal courtroom. Poor Larry Means from Gadsden has hardly even been mentioned. He is sitting there with one of the state’s leading and probably most expensive criminal defense lawyers, Bill Clark of Birmingham. Means’ only fault appears to be that he and Preuitt were best friends and he was following Preuitt’s lead in voting against the bingo bill because Preuitt held a grudge against Milton McGregor over a past campaign. Preuitt was able to finance his own campaigns and did not need to curry anybody’s favor. Means was not as fortunate and all he supposedly said was, “If I vote to allow the people to vote on this issue Bob Riley is going to get the Indian Casinos to finance a candidate against me and I will need to have some campaign protection.”

The judge should hand down a directed verdict of innocence for Means and Preuitt and send them home to northeast Alabama. They have already left politics and you can probably bet your bottom dollar they are not going to ever get back in the arena.

The other two State Senators, Quinton Ross and Harri Ann Smith, are also probably wondering why they are still sitting there. At the end of the day the prosecutors are going to regret including Ross in the indictments. The jury is very sympathetic to Ross and appears to have a lot of respect for his lawyer, Lewis Gillis. Ross’ only implication is his asking to be considered for a campaign contribution. He was on board early and originally with the legislation and, as his attorney Gillis succinctly asked the jury, “How can you buy someone who is already voting for it and is a co-sponsor?” Harri Ann Smith was also voting for the measure because it was wildly popular in her Wiregrass district.

At the end of the day it will all boil down to one key issue, is a campaign contribution a bribe? If a campaign contribution is a bribe these young federal prosecutors did not need to leave Washington to garner a conviction. They could simply walk down the street to the nation’s capitol and arrest all 535 members of Congress.

See you next week.