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Former Mashantucket Tribal Treasurer Pleads Guilty In Theft Case

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New Haven Federal Court. Photo by WTIC's Matt Dwyer.

New Haven Federal Court. Photo by WTIC’s Matt Dwyer.

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By MICHAEL MELIA, Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ The former treasurer for the tribe that owns and operates the Foxwoods Resort Casino pleaded guilty to a theft charge Thursday, a day after resigning as a member of the Mashantucket Pequot tribal council.

Steven Thomas was indicted in January along with his brother, former tribal chairman Michael Thomas, on allegations they each bilked money from the tribe. Michael Thomas was convicted in July of embezzling $100,000.

The cases against the Thomas brothers have come at delicate time for the tribe, which is hoping to win support across state lines for a new casino in Milford, Mass., as its massive resort in southeastern Connecticut struggles to recover from a financial slump.

Stephen Crosby, chairman of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, said he was not familiar with the criminal case but any findings of wrongdoing could factor into deliberations as it considers casino proposals.

“We look into everything,” Crosby said. “I don’t know who these individuals are or what kind of role they had, but certainly that is the kind of stuff we take seriously and look into.”

In federal court in New Haven, Steven Thomas pleaded guilty to a single count of theft from an Indian tribal organization. The charge is related to pay cards he submitted inflating the hours he worked in 2007 when he was assistant director of the tribe’s natural resources department, according to defense attorney Richard Reeve.

“He ran to become a tribal councilor on grounds that he was one of slackers and it was time to turn things around, and he’s done that,” Reeve said.

He was originally accused of stealing more than $700,000 from the tribe. In exchange for the guilty plea, prosecutors dropped two other theft charges.

Under the plea agreement, Thomas must pay try the tribe $177,603 in restitution.

Sentencing guidelines call for 12 to 18 months in prison, but prosecutors agreed not to oppose a shorter sentence. Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 3.

The tribe’s business entity, the Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprise, is the lead developer of the proposed Milford casino. A three-member committee appointed by the tribe makes all decisions regarding its investment in the project. Town officials anticipate the tribe would own about 10 percent of the casino.

If Foxwoods clears the background check and also wins the support of Milford residents in a Nov. 19 referendum, it can then formally apply to the commission for the sole license for a casino in eastern Massachusetts. Also competing for the license is the Suffolk Downs race track in East Boston and Las Vegas gambling mogul Steve Wynn, who has proposed building a casino on the banks of the Mystic River in Everett.

The tribe is holding an election on Oct. 24 to fill the council vacancy left by Steven Thomas’ resignation, according to a tribal memo obtained by The Associated Press. For the interim, the council chose Secretary Marjorie Colebut-Jackson to serve as treasurer.
____
Associated Press reporter Bob Salsberg contributed to this report from Boston.

  (© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)   

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