By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News
A major probe into illegal gambling activities and bribery of elected officials in Kimberly has resulted in a plea agreement for a former partner in a closed supermarket, thanks in large part to a “wire” worn by the city’s mayor.
The details of the federal investigation continues to unfold, as papers for a plea agreement for Daniel “Boone” Stone of Morris were filed last week in U.S. District Court.
The plea stems from attempts to bribe of Kimberly Mayor Craig Harris, who wore a “wire” — a concealed recording device — to catch as many as nine different people in the act of setting up locations for illegal slot and electronic bingo machines in and around Kimberly. Harris was offered bribes by those individuals, in hopes that he would keep city police away from those locations.
Harris reported the first bribery attempt to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and he has been a key figure in their investigation from the beginning, much as State Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, was in the federal gambling corruption trial that just ended in Montgomery.
Harris received cash bribe payments, which he immediately turned those over to the FBI.
Stone, who was a partner in the now-closed Kimberly IGA grocery, will plead guilty to one count of federal programs bribery and operating an illegal gambling business. That carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, plus a fine of as much as $250,000. In plea agreements, it is typical for a much lower sentence and/or fine to be given, though the judge in the case is not bound by the plea agreement.
According to additional briefs filed with the plea agreement, there are eight co-conspirators involved in the case. None are named pending action by a federal grand jury; each are referred to as “co-conspirator.” But language in the briefs gives clues to the identity of three of them:
• “Co-conspirator 6” is explicitly stated as Stone’s father. His name is Don Stone.
• “Co-conspirator 9” is described as “A resident of Gardendale, Alabama, and the former owner of a ‘Speed Mart’ gas station/convenience store” who provided machines and paid bribes to Harris. The only “Speed Mart” in the north Jefferson area is located in Warrior, and according to city officials there, it was operated by a Carl Scoggins of Gardendale through July of last year.
• “Co-conspirator 1” is described as “a resident of Warrior, Alabama, and the operator of an AMVETS location in Kimberly, Alabama.” He is charged with providing gambling machines. No current AMVETS post is listed in Kimberly by the organization’s Alabama web site, but a story in the December 17, 2008 edition of The North Jefferson News documents the efforts by Robert Yeager of Warrior to open a post in Kimberly, which was finally approved by the council after being denied a business license at least twice before, partly over worries about alcohol service and gambling activity often associated with such organizations.
The plea agreement indicates three specific locations where gambling machines were either in active use, or where they were proposed to be used: a site on Highway 31, a house on Crane Street, and a house on Bill Jones Road. Other sites were also active, according to the plea agreement, though locations were not mentioned.
Harris said Monday that Blount County Sheriff’s deputies raided a location in Kimberly, with the cooperation of their Jefferson County counterparts, in an unrelated case.
The case falls under federal jurisdiction in part because the city received federal funds for its police department through a grant for computers and digital cameras.
Tony Phillips, the attorney out of the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section in Washington, was limited in what he could say about the case but did confirm that the investigation is ongoing. Typically, once prosecutors are ready, indictments are submitted to a federal grand jury.
Stone is scheduled to be arraigned in U.S. District Court in Birmingham on Thursday at 9:30 a.m., though his attorney, Scott Morro, said that hearing may be moved because of a conflict in his schedule.
For Harris, it was often difficult to keep his role in the investigation a secret, especially as rumors began to circulate that the probe was ongoing and that he might be the target, instead of cooperating with the government.
“At times, it was pretty hard to keep this a secret, especially when you have members of the community saying that I was going to be in trouble,” Harris said. “In the initial phases, I was trying to keep it from the police department, and that wasn’t easy.”
Harris heard the rumors himself, especially during his recent battle with his own city council over advances he received on his mayoral pay and personal use of a city vehicle. The council passed a no-confidence resolution, plus another resolution demanding his immediate resignation, in a meeting last month.
“Whenever I heard it [the rumor] from someone, I just told them from that wasn’t the case,” Harris said.
When the story broke over the weekend, Harris was relieved that his true role was now out in the open — “very much so,” he said. “For the people who had the questions, I can now clear my name.”
Mayor Pro Tem Bob Ellerbrock said that Harris gave him a heads-up on the probe early on.
“I’ve known about it for quite some time. I’m glad its out now. It’s a serious enough situation that I kept it secret,” Ellerbrock said.