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Defense claims AG conducted 'witch hunt' of Bessemer judge

BIRMINGHAM (AP) — A sworn statement from a state investigator says he was pressured by Attorney General Troy King to find anything that could be used to force the removal of a Jefferson County circuit judge who had ruled against King in a case involving video gambling machines.

The investigator, Anthony Castaldo, said in the affidavit that three investigations of Circuit Judge Dan King produced no evidence of wrongdoing, but King ordered him to "find something.'' The fourth probe revealed that the judge appeared to have placed campaign contributions into personal accounts, Castaldo said. King was indicted on campaign finance charges in April.

"The decision to prosecute this case was in fact the culmination of a yearlong vindictive witch hunt directed by Attorney General Troy King,'' the judge's defense attorney said in a motion to throw out the charges.

Castaldo was fired from the attorney general's staff after giving the sworn statement, which was dated Aug. 1. The affidavit was filed by the judge's attorney in support of the motion seeking to have the indictment thrown out.

Defense lawyer Pete Short said Castaldo's claims prove the judge was a victim of selective prosecution.

The attorney general called Castaldo a disgruntled former employee telling "outright lies.''

"Mr. Castaldo should be ashamed to have traded the justice he was hired to obtain for the allure of grinding an ax against those who demanded he conduct himself above reproach,'' King said.

"The affidavit reflects gross abuse of the office of the attorney general,'' said Short.

Dan King is scheduled for trial in December on the 56-count indictment. A felony conviction would result in his automatic removal from office.

The judge ruled in 2004 that a type of video gaming machines opposed by the attorney general was legal.

The decision led to the spread of the machines, which have since been outlawed by appeals courts.

In the statement, Castaldo said he was ordered while working for the attorney general to investigate possible gambling payoffs to the judge but found no evidence of payments.

He said he was later told to review possible links between the judge and a developer but found no evidence of wrongdoing.

After being directed to talk to anyone with "an ax to grind'' against the judge but coming up with nothing, Castaldo said Troy King "ordered me to find something on Judge King — old campaign records, finance records, anything to get him off the bench.''

"The specific reason was that Judge King opposed Troy King on the issue of gambling and gambling machines,'' Castaldo said in the statement.

Castaldo was acquitted on a perjury charge in March that his defense attorney, Jim Pino, said stemmed from Castaldo's refusal "to do political things'' for the attorney general.

The investigator previously worked for District Attorney John Tyson of Mobile, who was Troy King's Democratic opponent in the 2006 campaign for attorney general.

Castaldo said King asked him around late 2005 for information that could be used against Tyson in the campaign.

Castaldo said he refused and was reassigned from his duties as a special investigator for King.

The perjury charge against Castaldo involved testimony he gave in October 2005 in a gambling case. Chris Bence, a spokesman for Troy King, said in March the perjury charge had nothing to do with Castaldo's relationship with the attorney general.

The perjury case was referred to the Jefferson County district attorney's office, which handled the prosecution that ended in Castaldo's acquittal.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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