Wednesday, March 12, 2014
The 2011 ballot initiative to establish a Lewiston casino is probably best remembered for two things:
1. A whiny campaign slogan (“It’s our turn!”)
2. Its overwhelming defeat (63 percent of voters voted against it.).
But Maine Ethics Commission documents show that there was a lot more going on with the political action committees pushing the casino than was made public in 2011.
Next Thursday the Maine Ethics Commission will vote on recommendations from its staff which found that the political action committees advocating for the casino reported contributions that were “objectively false” and that real donors were never disclosed. Those donors included two gambling companies in Maryland and an Oklahoma man who recently struck a plea deal with Florida authorities after facing 205 felony counts for a gambling operation posing as a veterans charitable organization.
The ethics staff investigation pulled bank records for the PACs to obtain the real donor information. Now the commission will have to decide whether to penalize the operators of the two PACs -- the Lewiston-Auburn duo of Stavros Mendros and Peter Robinson -- for a late disclosure filing. Staff had originally recommended an $85,000 fine, but has since backed off a specific amount as new information has surfaced to complicate the case. Essentially, Mendros and Robinson are claiming that they relied on the statements of out-of-state donors. The out-of-state donors, meanwhile, are saying they never provided inaccurate information to Mendros and Robinson. Ethics documents describe this as “they said-they said.”
Given the players in this mess, it’s no wonder that the Ethics staffers are having difficulty determining who to believe. Mendros has been involved with some unsavory business before; in 2007, he pled guilty and was fined to three counts of falsely notarizing the signatures of petition circulators for gambling petitions. Additionally, a spokesman for GT Source, the company originally and incorrectly listed as the PACs primary donor, in 2011 told the Sun Journal in Lewiston that the company had in fact made the donations.
And then there’s this guy: Chase Burns, the 37-year-old Oklahoma businessman, whose plea deal in the Florida gambling scheme helped him avoid jail time. However, an investigation by the Oklahoma Attorney General showed that Burns invested in a yacht to entertain Florida politicians and there have been multiple press accounts of his involvement in a video gambling controversy in North Carolina (CliffsNotes version: North Carolina has barred video sweepstakes, but the machines continue to proliferate thanks to lax regulatory oversight and legal tweaks; meanwhile, the industry, and specifically Burns, has emerged as a top donor to Republican politicians.).
With all of that as background, next week's Ethics Commission hearing should be interesting.
Steve Mistler covers politics and government for the Portland Press Herald. He spends a lot of time in the hallways of the State House.