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No guilty verdicts in Alabama gambling trial

By Verna Gates

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (Reuters) - An Alabama jury returned not guilty verdicts on Thursday against nine defendants accused in an alleged vote-buying scheme involving state lawmakers, casino owners and lobbyists, a lawyer involved in the case said.

The verdicts represent a setback for the U.S. Department of Justice, which prosecuted the case.

Two of the defendants, Democratic state Senator Quinton Ross and lobbyist Bob Geddie, were found not guilty of all charges against them and ordered freed by U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson, said Jim Parkman, attorney for Harri Ann Smith, one of the accused.

The other defendants were found not guilty on some charges and there was a hung jury on other counts, Parkman said.

"We were real pleased not to get one single guilty verdict. It is good for us. But it looks bad for the government with all of the time and the agents who worked on it," Parkman told Reuters.

Thompson declared mistrials on the charges for which the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict and said he would set a new trial date within a month, the Birmingham News newspaper said on its website.

"We appreciate the jury's service in this important public corruption trial. Our prosecutors will discuss next steps as we move forward in this matter," said Laura Sweeney, a justice department spokeswoman.

Four state senators -- two Democrats, one Republican and an independent -- were charged with accepting cash and gifts in exchange for their pledge to vote for the "Sweet Home Alabama," gambling bill, which would have given wide powers to a handful of gambling entrepreneurs.

Gambling is severely limited under Alabama law and some in the southern state have long sought to loosen restrictions, arguing it would bring much-needed tax revenue and economic development.

The Justice Department had said in its indictment that bribes, involving millions of dollars, were in the form of campaign contributions, campaign appearances by country music stars, fund-raising assistance and other gifts.

The bill was defeated in a vote and then Governor Bob Riley called it the "most corrupt piece of legislation ever considered by the state Senate."

(Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington; writing by Matthew Bigg)

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