Former House of Representatives employee Clay Covington resigned earlier this month as he was facing a legal fight over not claiming income, including $277,000 he allegedly received from gambling establishments operated by Milton McGregor.
Covington was charged with six counts of failing to pay income taxes on $237,620 in wages from the state, and $277,000 in other income from the Macon County Greyhound Park and the Jefferson County Racing Association, according to a Thursday release from the office of Attorney General Luther Strange.
Covington’s arrest is an indication that state prosecutors are still looking into activity related to gambling money and other political activity in recent years and is sure to have some with dealings at the State House nervous. The indictment in no way indicated why there were payments to Covington.
On the surface, there are some similarities to the federal charges against former legislative analyst Ray Crosby, who was charged with corruption along with McGregor, other casino operators, state senators, and lobbyists. McGregor and seven other defendants were found not guilty in two federal cases against them.
Crosby, who died of natural causes the day before the start of the second trial, was accused of accepting bribes from McGregor to craft gambling legislation to favor the casino owner. He crafted the 2010 legislation at the heart of the federal trial.
Crosby, who worked as a senior analyst for the Legislative Reference Service and wrote both pro-gambling and anti-gambling legislation, was paid $3,000 a month by McGregor while he was also being paid to work for the Legislature. He did not report the outside income to the Alabama Ethics Commission until after law enforcement approached him as part of its federal corruption investigation.
An accountant for McGregor testified in federal court that she wrote and McGregor signed 24 checks for $3,000 to Crosby. He received $3,000 each month from May 2008 through April 2010.
Crosby, as a public employee who was paid more than $50,000, was supposed to report outside income to the ethics commission.
McGregor’s attorneys argued repeatedly in court, and prosecutors never disagreed, that McGregor filed the proper paperwork with the state and federal government for his payments to Crosby.
But Crosby drafted legislation, had access to critical information about other gambling proposals, and had expertise in several key areas. Covington, on the other hand, was a journal clerk who kept record of House activities, forwarded phones and handled the status of bills, according to a House official.
So, it would be difficult to understand how Covington would assist those operations or would benefit gambling interests in the political process. But, if there was no link, why would Strange’s special prosecutions division have been involved? Strange established the division and former federal prosecutor Matt Hart, who has worked on a variety of high-profile cases in recent years including the first prosecution of former Gov. Don Siegelman, heads the division. Maybe Covington was caught up in a search for bigger fish.
Crosby and Covington have not been the only government employees prosecutors have alleged to be on the McGregor payroll.
Monica Cooper, the former top assistant to then-Senate Minority Leader Jabo Waggoner, also was on the payroll, according to testimony in McGregor’s federal corruption trial. Cooper, as heard on phone conversations secretly recorded by the FBI, would report inside information from Senate Republicans to McGregor.
Covington, 41, surrendered on Wednesday to the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office. Covington, whose bail was set at $10,000, will appear before a judge for his arraignment on Thursday. Covington could not be reached for comment on Thursday and court documents did not list an attorney for him.
Covington worked for the House of Representatives from February 2002 until he resigned on April 4, according to Clerk of the House Jeff Woodard. Woodard declined to comment further.
Covington, if convicted, faces a maximum of one year in jail and a fine of up to $25,000 for each of the 10 counts in the indictment and could face other financial penalties and interest on the unpaid taxes.
The special prosecutions division in the attorney general’s office presented evidence to a Montgomery County grand jury on April 5, which resulted in Covington’s indictment.
The attorney general’s office stated it could not release any further information at this time.
– By Sebastian Kitchen
Reporter Brian Lyman contributed to this report.