TMZ: FBI Newton Probe Linked To Auburn Booster

Earlier today I reported that noted Auburn sports booster Milton McGregor was arrested by the FBI last month on political bribery allegations following a lengthy federal investigation that included wiretaps.

Milton McGregor

(Auburn Booster Milton McGregor, wiretapped, arrested by FBI)

TMZ.com is now reporting:

According to sources connected to the probe … FBI agents looking into the Newton recruiting controversy are also asking about Milton McGregor — a dog track owner arrested last month for allegedly bribing Alabama politicians to vote pro gambling.

We’re told agents asked someone connected to the Newton case if he was familiar with McGregor or the bribery scandal.

As I reported this morning, also arrested last month in the same FBI wiretap investigation was prominent Alabama lobbyist and Auburn alumnus Robert Geddie. Read more…

What if a Booster Ran an SEC School’s Budget?

On January 12, 2006, Mike Fish of ESPN.com published a lengthy piece on the “most powerful boosters” in college sports. At the top of the list was Oregon’s Phil Knight, Oklahoma State’s T. Boone Pickens and Auburn’s Bobby Lowder.

Bobby Lowder

(At Auburn, failed banker, megabooster Bobby Lowder oversees school budget)

Lowder is the former CEO and chairman of Colonial Bancgroup, a banking empire he founded in 1981. In 2009, Alabama-based Colonial was the largest bank failure in the United States and sixth-biggest bank failure in U.S. history. Lowder’s company was seized by Federal regulators in a collapse that reportedly cost the FDIC $2.8 billion.

In the aftermath of the Colonial failure, last month the OPELIKA-AUBURN NEWS reported:

The feds (FBI) are moving forward quickly toward prosecution of some 50 bank executives and directors of failed banks to recover as much as $1 billion paid out by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

Lowder is being personally sued by Colonial employees for $50 million for alleged mismanagement of their retirement funds and the FBI has alleged that Colonial executives committed financial fraud totaling $1.9 billion. FORTUNE Senior Editor Brian O’Keefe also noted another Federal investigation of Lowder’s Colonial:

Perhaps most worrying for Lowder is an investigation by the FBI and the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program into Colonial’s so-called warehouse-lending business.

Colonial applied for $550 million in TARP funds last fall but was never cleared to receive a bailout. On Aug. 3, just 11 days before regulators shut down Colonial, agents raided the bank’s offices in downtown Orlando, where the warehouse lending was managed, and spent hours carting away boxes of documents.

After the Colonial meltdown, Lowder “retired” from his post at the bank. Despite the public ignominy that befell his finance career, Lowder continues to retain his seat on Auburn Board of Trustees. As the longest tenured member of the board, Lowder currently chairs the finance committee that oversees Auburn University entire budget - which includes the Auburn athletic department.

Of Lowder’s role at Auburn,¬†Fortune’s O’Keefe wrote in 2009:

“His name might not be familiar outside Alabama, but he is easily one of the most feared, loathed, and some say misunderstood men to wield power in this state since George Wallace — the governor who first appointed him to the board in 1983.

“… Lowder has been accused of making backroom deals with governors and treating the Auburn football program like a private fiefdom. (Because of his influence over Auburn’s athletic program, three years ago ESPN named him the most powerful booster in college sports.)”

The BIRMINGHAM NEWS reported that some of the “big losers” in Lowder’s Colonial bank “dive” were former Auburn football coach Pat Dye and prominent Auburn booster and gambling business magnate Milton McGregor. McGregor reportedly owned $19 million in Colonial stock at one point. Lowder reportedly had many of his high-powered Auburn acquaintances, including McGregor, appointed to the Colonial Board of Directors.

As owner of the state’s largest electronic bingo casino, VictoryLand, Milton McGregor is one of the highest-profile Auburn boosters in the state. In 2008, he donated $1 million toward construction of the new Auburn basketball arena.

The morning of October, 4, 2010, the BIRMINGHAM NEWS reported:

FBI agents swept across Alabama this morning arresting state lawmakers and lobbyists as part of a federal probe into efforts to pass gambling legislation last spring.

The biggest name arrested so far has been VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor, who was arrested at his Montgomery home this morning.

Before McGregor was arrested by FBI agents, the Birmingham News reported of the ongoing investigation on May 7, 2010:

Sources familiar with the investigation have said the probe has included the use of wiretaps, and several lawmakers agreed to wear wires to capture the conversations between themselves, other lawmakers and lobbyists. Read more…