A federal judge sentenced Jennifer Pouncy, the last of three people who pleaded guilty to bribing state lawmakers to pass gambling legislation, to a much lighter sentence than those who worked alongside her.
Chief Judge Keith Watkins sentenced the former casino lobbyist Wednesday to three years probation. The Montgomery woman, who was the first target in the investigation to cooperate and to plead guilty, could have served as much as five years in prison after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy. Prosecutors requested a sentence of two years in prison.
Pouncy, 36, admitted offering one state senator $2 million in exchange for his vote on pro-gambling legislation and to working with a casino developer to authorize $100,000 for another state senator in exchange for his vote.
Watkins said her actions undermined government and people's confidence in government in this state, and he was not minimizing the seriousness of her crimes, but he said she has suffered humiliation, lost earnings, was the first to cooperate with federal investigators, and provided substantial assistance that helped lead to the guilty pleas of two other defendants, lobbyist Jarrod Massey and Country Crossing developer Ronnie Gilley.
Pouncy declined comment as she left the federal courthouse Wednesday.
Pouncy, who briefly addressed the judge in the courtroom, fought back tears as she said she was sorry for her crimes and knew they were wrong when she did them. She apologized to her husband, who was in the courtroom, and her 3-year-old son for putting them through the situation.
"I wish I was stronger," said Pouncy, who said she wishes she had initially just told people no.
Pouncy's defense attorney, Tommy Spina, said Pouncy was not a ring leader in the conspiracy and acted on the orders of others.
"She was just a puppet and an attractive young lady they used," he said to the judge.Spina said she was the mother of a young son in a double-earner family where she was the "bread winner" and was trying to keep a $60,000-a-year job. She currently works for an agency that deals with veterinary products, he added.
The attorney also said that other than those 30 days in 2010 she had lived an exemplary life.
Spina said they were relieved she received probation, said that chapter of her life was over, and said "she'll just go back to work being a mother and the hard-working person that she always was before this and has been since this."
Pouncy has not been asked for assistance in any other investigations, Spina said.
Attorneys said during sentencing for Massey and Gilley that they had cooperated with a state investigation.
Watkins said there was no benefit to society in sending Pouncy to prison. Spina agreed.
"I don't find she had any involvement in planning" the corrupt activities, Watkins said and added that she had a minor role in the activities. Pouncy said on the witness stand during one of the trials that she did not have the authority to approve campaign contributions.
Federal prosecutor Emily Rae Woods of the U.S. Department of Justice's Public Integrity Section said it is clear Pouncy regrets her crimes, but the punishment must reflect the seriousness of her crimes. She said Pouncy's actions undermined the system of government in Alabama and said she offered bribes of more than $1 million.
The judge also ordered Pouncy to pay a $4,000 fine, but did not order her to pay restitution, saying no one suffered a financial loss because of her crimes.
He also ordered her to perform 100 hours of community service.
Pouncy pleaded guilty in September 2010, days before federal agents arrested 11 other people including VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor, Gilley, Massey, other lobbyists, and four state senators for their alleged role in a conspiracy in which, according to federal authorities, casino interests offered millions in bribes to lawmakers in exchange for their votes on pro-gambling legislation.
Other than those who pleaded guilty, none of the other defendants were found guilty in the two federal corruption trials related to gambling in the state.Massey, who was Pouncy's boss and the chief lobbyist for Country Crossing, and Gilley were among those arrested in October 2010 and they later pleaded guilty. Pouncy testified that, as a young mother, she acted on their orders out of fear she could lose her job.
Spina said that there was "not one act Jennifer committed that she initiated."
Prosecutors credited Pouncy with being responsible for Massey pleading guilty and partially responsible for Gilley pleading guilty.
Another federal judge sentenced Massey to five years and five months in prison and Gilley to more than six and a half years in prison. Massey is serving his sentence and Gilley is scheduled to begin his early next month after his term was delayed so he could undergo surgery and recovery.
Pouncy testified that she offered then-state Sen. Jim Preuitt, R-Talladega, $2 million in exchange for his vote on the gambling legislation being considered by the Senate in the 2010 legislative session. Preuitt was a defendant in the case, but was found not guilty of all of the charges.
She also said that then-state Sen. Larry Means, D-Attalla, told her at that time that he was going through a tough re-election fight and needed $100,000.
Pouncy testified that she went to Massey, who called Gilley and told the developer they were getting a "shakedown" from Means. Gilley approved contributing the money to Means, although there was never any transfer of money to either senator. Means, also a defendant, was found not guilty of the charges against him.
Prosecutors portrayed the gambling interests as desperate as they tried to pass the gambling legislation in 2009 and 2010 to try to protect their financial future and keep their casinos open.
"She stood to gain nothing financially," Spina said.
Pouncy, whose first job in lobbying was working for McGregor lobbyist Milo Dakin, said on the witness stand that in her 12 or 13 years of lobbying she had never talked before about votes in exchange for contributions.
Defense attorneys attacked what they said were credibility issues with Pouncy and inconsistencies in her testimony.Pouncy testified at both of the federal corruption trials, where she was emotional at times as she underwent heavy questioning from defense attorneys during a total of seven days on the witness stand.
She also had to answer questions concerning demeaning conversations about her and about Massey telling her to tell Preuitt she could lose her job if the bill did not pass. She said she never told him.
Spina said Pouncy had to endure personal attacks on her morality based on what men said behind her back while she was working. Federal agents secretly recorded phone lines used by Gilley, Massey and McGregor. The conversations about her that were played in court were between Gilley and Massey.
Massey and Pouncy testified that he placed her on administrative leave and then fired her in 2010. Massey said she was often sick, was emotional and that he was concerned about her cooperating with authorities because of her behavior.
Woods said the trial experience was a "particularly taxing one for the government witnesses," noting the number of defendants and countless defense attorneys. She also said, because of the media attention on the case, that the witnesses were under an unusual level of exposure.
An FBI agent and an agent with the Alabama Bureau of Investigation approached Pouncy on her way to work the day after the Senate approved the gambling legislation in 2010. She immediately went with them to an office where they began questioning her. Pouncy began cooperating in April 2010.
"She has done everything that has been asked of her," Woods said, adding that Pouncy's testimony was truthful, that she was respectful on the witness stand, and that she appeared remorseful and humbled by the situation.Spina said the cooperation was timely and was provided as the investigation continued and as the grand jury was meeting to consider charges.