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Chip Drago
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With 'Lucky Larry' as harpoon, are feds in range of Moby Dick?

By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
Don’t be surprised if “Lucky” Larry Langford’s sentencing, set for Friday, is postponed.

On the other hand, if reports of the defrocked Birmingham politician's defiance are accurate, don’t be surprised if he “gets his wagon loaded” at a “Sirica sentencing,” in the parlance of the criminal defense world.

A “Sirica sentence” springs from Judge John J. Sirica and the stiff sentences handed down to the Watergate burglars. Instead of the light sentences they expected for mundane crimes, Sirica “loaded their wagons,” giving prosecutors the leverage they needed to further the investigation. Nowadays, it is even tougher for defendants under a Sirica sentence. Under new rules, only the prosecutors can move for a review and reduction of sentence.  

Langford almost certainly is now in that critical gray place on the road to justice where he’s got to decide whether to indulge his pride or engage his brain.

How did he come to win 555 jackpots totaling $1.5 million over three years in visits to VictoryLand in Macon County and Greenetrack in Greene County? Inquiring federal minds want to know. 

The colorful and resplendent ex-mayor of Birmingham may not realize it, but his lucky streak isn’t completely over despite his convictions for taking bribes. It appears that he has one last hole card to play. That card may not win him a huge jackpot, but his unstinting cooperation in other investigations may shave years off his sentence and he could be back on the street in his Italian loafers and silk ties before you can say "Jackpot!" 555 times. 

Headstrong or head smart, the choice is yours, his lawyer is probably advising him.

When he appears for sentencing before U.S. District Judge Scott Coogler, Langford will face more time than the 62-year-old political impresario has got. 555 jackpots is a big number. 805 years in prison is an even bigger number. Langford himself calculated he would have to live to be 80 and “come back 10 more times” to serve out the sentence. Even the luckiest cat gets only nine lives.

Authorities are likely anxious to learn the secret of Langford's success in visits to Alabama gambling halls. From 2006-09, the dapper politico was a veritable leprechaun festooned in four-leaf clovers whenever he strolled into VictoryLand in Shorter or Greenetrack in Eutaw, winning an incredible 555 jackpots totaling $1.5 million. What are the odds of that? If it were blackjack and Las Vegas, Langford would be banned from the premises as a card-counter.

Equally astonishing, Langford lost -- to the dollar -- exactly as much as he won gambling, according to his tax returns. Talk about breaking even, although it is not unusual for high rollers and
large losers to report
offsetting wins and losses
because tax law will not
allow a claim for losses in
excess of reported winnings. So maybe Loser Larry is more apt than Lucky Larry. As with campaign financing in Alabama, the truth is a greased pig.
Still, quite likely lawyers of both the defense and prosecutorial variety are discussing what “breaks” can be obtained for what truthful “talk.” If Langford was directed to specific slot machines in the course of his winning streak, authorities will want to follow that path back to its origins.

Langford is no longer "the honorable Larry Langford, mayor of Birmingham," hard as that may be for him to accept. He is now, potentially, Larry Langford, witness for the government. Quite a fall. It's even worse though. His stock as a government witness has dropped. Larry Langford, the government witness who is facing charges involving bribery, public corruption etc., has more value and worth as a credible witness for prosecutors than Larry Langford, the witness who forced prosecutors to seat a jury and present days and days of testimony before the jury deliberated and returned his 60 convictions and who now faces a prison sentence fit only for someone straight out of the Old Testament. What might a man say to avoid more than eight centuries in a prison cell, or, for that matter, 25-30 years as prosecutors have recommended? Still, Langford has value to law enforcement, but events (and the choices he made that led to those events) have diminished his value. Under oath and under the circumstances, he wouldn't even be a very important rat, just another trapped rat whose testimony would beg for corroboration. In federal prosecutions, sometimes big shots stumble on the shifting ground under their feet. Their loss of stature is simply incomprehensible to them. Pride trumps judgment. It's yesterday's deal they want when only today's deal is on the table. 

Langford has long been close politically to VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor. Both men have denied charges that machines were rigged for Langford's benefit.

Langford was found guilty last fall on 60 counts of a variety of wrongdoing, including bribery, money laundering and conspiracy. All of the charges related to his time on the Jefferson County Commission.

Langford's sentencing Friday may not be an ending, but a notable point in a continuing saga.

The implications are enormous in a state consumed by bingo fever. What a story. With gambling the issue of the day and electronic bingo machines seized in night-time raids and talk of armed resistance to state authorities invading local jurisdictions, could the stakes be any higher? Cue Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. What say you, Bill O'Reilly? Lights, camera, action.

But this story could be much better than the standard political sideshow.

This one could be a classic for the ages.

Gov. Bob Riley as Captain Ahab at the prow of the ship of state while a crew of federal harpooners search the political seas for the Great White Whale of Alabama gambling? An epic chapter in Alabama history may be unfolding before our very eyes.

Either way it plays, Friday will be a key moment in the drama.

Of all folks, "Lucky" Larry Langford should know: the House controls the odds. The big question is: does he know whose House he's in now?
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