Regulators asked to weigh tribal councilors' relationships with former Mashantucket chairman
Massachusetts gaming regulators should ask Mashantucket Pequot tribal councilors about their relationships with Michael Thomas, the former tribal chairman convicted this week of embezzling from the tribe, according to the chairman of the Board of Selectmen in Milford, the Bay State town where the tribe's Foxwoods Resort Casino is partnering on a $1 billion casino project.
"I'd be interested in the extent to which they had financial arrangements with him, personally or professionally," William Buckley said Friday. "Did they go to dinner together? Did they go to each other's homes?"
Buckley said he was confident the commission would explore such connections.
"I'm not worried about it," he said.
The board chairman also said he expects the commission to vet all seven members of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council, not just the two listed among the "qualifiers" involved in the Foxwoods Massachusetts proposal who are subject to the background checks.
The list, dated July 15 and posted on the commission's website, includes, among others, the Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprise; Scott Butera, Foxwoods' president and chief executive officer; Allan Kronberg, Foxwoods Massachusetts' general manager; Rodney Butler, chairman of the tribal council; and Crystal Whipple, a council member.
Butera, Butler and Whipple comprise a committee appointed by the tribe to make all decisions related to MPGE's investment in the Foxwoods Massachusetts project, according to information posted on the websites of the gaming commission and the Town of Milford.
By contrast, all nine Mohegan Tribal Council members are listed among the qualifiers the commission is vetting in connection with the casino project Mohegan Sun is pitching in western Massachusetts.
"The tribal council should all be vetted," Buckley said. "Foxwoods has tried to limit the scope of the background investigations, but at the end of the day, it's who votes on tribal matters. Who decides who the Foxwoods CEO is? It's not just two members, it's the whole council."
One of the other councilors, treasurer Steven Thomas, faces a November trial on theft charges similar to those the federal government prosecuted against Michael Thomas, his brother, who chaired the council from 2003 to 2009. Michael Thomas is to be sentenced Oct. 22. Steven Thomas's trial is scheduled for November.
The gaming commission, which conducted "suitability" hearings Thursday and Friday for applicants for a slots parlor license, will do the same for the casino operators vying for three casino licenses, including the one Foxwoods is seeking in Milford.
"With more than 300 qualifiers and 21,000 pages of documents, investigators continue to be steadfast in their efforts to complete the background investigations and meet the statutory requirements to determine an applicant's suitability as it pertains to finance and integrity," commission spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll wrote in an email.
By law, the criteria the commission must consider in determining suitability include whether an applicant/qualifier has been convicted of a felony or other crime involving embezzlement, theft, fraud or perjury; and whether an applicant/qualifier has "affiliates or close associates that would not qualify for a license or whose relationship with the applicant may pose an injurious threat to the interests of the Commonwealth in awarding a gaming license to the applicant."
The commission is expected to make its suitability determinations in August and September. Casino operators also must clear two other hurdles before advancing to a final phase in the licensing process: they must sign a "host community agreement" with the town where their casino would be located and they must win a referendum vote in the host town.
Selectmen in Milford should decide early next month whether to negotiate a host community agreement with the Foxwoods partnership, said Buckley, the board chairman. A referendum could be held no sooner than 60 days after the signing of an agreement.
If Foxwoods Massachusetts won a referendum, it still could be tripped up by a town meeting vote on a necessary zone change for the project. The vote would be held among elected town meeting members, of which there are more than 240. More than half would have to attend the meeting to constitute a quorum; two-thirds of those in attendance would have to vote yes to approve the zone change.