An Alabama state senator apologized after Democrats stirred up racial tensions in a federal corruption trial against fellow party members and seven others facing conspiracy, bribery and honest service fraud charges.
State Sen. Scott Beason (R-Gardendale) read a statement at the Gardendale Civic Center Tuesday apologizing for taped testimony of him making comments about a predominantly African-American county's casino and its customers. According to transcripts, Beason called the county's residents "aborigines."
In the apology, he stated, “I am very sorry and I apologize to anyone whose feelings were hurt by my comment."
Beason wore a wire for an FBI investigation in to a pay-for-scheme involving Alabama's top two casino owners, Milton McGregor of VictoryLand Greyhound Park and Ronnie Gilley of Country Crossing Casino, and lobbyists. McGregor and Gilley reportedly hired lobbyists to bribe the lawmakers to pass a bill legalizing video poker games.
The Department of Justice indicted 11 people, including four state senators, three Democratic and one Independent last year. Gilley and his lobbyists, Jennifer Pouncy and Jarrod Massey, all pled guilty to conspiracy and testified against the remaining nine defendants.
Recordings made to aid the FBI investigation taped Beason calling Greene County's residents and customers of the county's Greenetrack racing and electronic bingo parlor "aborigines."
Beason and his wife, Lori, are also members of Gardendale's First Baptist Church.
When asked by Defense attorneys what he meant by the comment, he explained that he didn't know what he meant at the time.
"I don't use that term normally. I don't know where it even came from that day," Beason testified.
Beason made the remark while talking to two other Republican legislators about Greenetrack racing and electronic bingo parlor, Greene County's largest employers, and its customers. One of three said, "That's y'all's [sic] Indians." Beason then responded, "They're aborigines, but they're not Indians."
Aborgines or the Aboriginal are an ethnic group of native or indigenous people to a particular land or region.
The Chattahoochee River dividing parts of Alabama and Georgia was, according the Historic Chattahoochee Commission, historically the home of several native Indian tribes including Creek Indians. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians own three tribal government gaming casinos in Montgomery, Wetumpka and Atmore Alabama.
Beason was right in noting that Greene County's residents are not Indians. County residents are (as of 2009) nearly 79 percent black, 20 percent white and nearly 1 percent Hispanic, according to City-Data.com. Additionally, Greenetrack is not a Creek Indian casino.
Beason's "aborigines" remark may have caused some to think of Australian Aborigines who have darker skin.
State Democrats have decried the statements, calling for Beason, the chairman of the state Senate Rules Commission, to relinquish his position. Black Democratic Sen. Vivian Figures of Mobile said, "Racism should have no place in the Alabama Senate. It is in the best interest of all Alabamians that he resign immediately."
Beason has not relinquished his chairman position, nor has he resigned.
Passions were already ignited over the fraud charges, which the accused called a political witch hunt. Sen. Harri Anne Smith (I-Slocomb), one the three senators indicted, told Fox News last year that the indictments were "a nakedly political move, coordinated by prosecutors in cahoots with the governor's office" to influence the 2010 November elections.
All except James Preuitt sought re-election. Preuitt, who switched his political affiliation to Republican last year to win a sixth term in office, dropped his re-election bid after the grand jury indicted him.
Jeff Emerson, spokesman for Ala. Gov. Bob Riley, rejected the idea that a Republican governor would be in cahoots with a Democratic DOJ.
Beason's remark may have also turned attention from the accused in the federal gambling corruption case. U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson rejected prosecutors' attempts to keep Beason's comments out of the trial. Defense attorneys of casino owner McGregor used the comments to successfully question Beason's character and the motivation behind his testimony.
In August, the jury returned a verdict proclaiming Smith not guilty of one count of bribery, one count of extortion and nine counts of honest services fraud. McGergor was acquitted of one count of bribery and state Sen. Quinton Ross Jr. (D-Montgomery) was acquitted of all the charges against him. The jury was deadlocked on the remaining seven defendants. Judge Thompson declared a mistrial on the remaining 14 charges.
A retrial will likely be scheduled for January 2012.