A Houston County Grand Jury is hearing evidence related to potential criminal activity in regard to Country Crossing/Center Stage Alabama and specifically related to those involved in the development and operation of the gaming center. Evidence is being presented by the office of Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange.
A source familiar with the probe, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said numerous subpoenas have been issued. Among those receiving orders to appear before or present documents to the grand jury is accounting firms and the Houston County Commission.
"As a general policy, we do not make any comment or confirmation if a particular matter may be under investigation or what may have been presented to a grand jury," said Joy Patterson, spokesperson for Strange.
When contacted, Deputy Attorney General Sonny Reagan admitted he was at the Houston County Courthouse Friday but refused comment on the reason. "Obviously, I was there because people saw me there but that's all I can say at this point," said Reagan. Other members of the attorney general's staff accompanied Reagan to Dothan.
Among other things, the criminal probe is believed to be looking at the Houston Economic Development Authority, a group that oversees the operation and charity funds from bingo games played at the gaming center located about seven miles south of Dothan. Another board oversees the allocation of the funds.
Country Crossing opened in December, 2009 but closed two months later to avoid a raid by agents from a state task force formed to determine the legality of so-called electronic bingo machines. Similar raids also shut down other gaming operations including Victoryland and White Hall Entertainment Center.
Country Crossing later reopened under the name Center Stage Alabama and offered gaming machines that management said it felt were, without doubt, compliant with state law. However, Strange issued a cease and desist order involving playing the machines. After Center Stage failed to comply with the order, a raid in July resulted in the confiscation of several hundred bingo machines. Center Stage remains open, offering traditional paper bingo and new electronic bingo devices.
The grand jury hearing evidence in the case could report as early as Tuesday but it's unclear whether it will issue any findings regarding the Country Crossing/Center Stage case. It is believed the panel heard evidence in other, unrelated, cases last week as well. Proceedings before a grand jury are generally private before findings are released. It is believed the grand jury will hear additional evidence regarding Country Crossing/Center Stage during the next several months.
A federal grand jury, in 2009, indicted eleven people in an alleged legislative gambling vote-buying scheme. Two of the 11, Country Crossing developer Ronnie Gilley and lobbyist Jarrod Massey, agreed to testify for the prosecution in exchange for guilty pleas. Both have been sentenced to prison terms. The other nine were found not guilty on a total of 39 charges. The defendants have not been indicted on state charges.
Houston County Commission Chairman Mark Culver confirmed Monday the commission has been served with a subpoena seeking information regarding HEDA and has until October to supply the information.
Meanwhile, HEDA board member Bill Durden said Monday he is unaware of the grand jury proceedings.