Politics

December 5, 2013

Ethics panel delays action on Lewiston casino campaigners

Stavros Mendros and Peter Robinson are suspected of misreporting donations during their failed 2011 casino initiative.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Two political operatives from the Lewiston area who led an unsuccessful campaign in 2011 to develop a casino in Lewiston will have to wait to find out whether they will be sanctioned for misreporting donations.

click image to enlarge

In this 2011 file photo, Stavros Mendros after the Lewiston casino failed at the poll. Mendros and Peter Robinson are suspected of misreporting donations during their failed 2011 Lewiston casino initiative.

Staff File Photo

Stavros Mendros and Peter Robinson appeared Thursday before the state ethics commission, which has been investigating both men and the two political action committees they formed to raise money – Green Jobs for ME and the People of Lewiston-Auburn – for more than a year.

Based on bank statements and interviewers with out-of-state donors, the commission’s investigation concluded that Mendros and Robinson failed to accurately disclose the source of major donations totaling more than $400,000.

The donations were attributed in financial disclosure forms to a Georgia company, GL Source, which makes slot machines. The commission, however, said the donations actually came from an Oklahoma businessman and two Maryland companies that are involved in gambling.

“A new casino also would have had a significant and long-lasting impact on the cities of Lewiston and Auburn and the surrounding communities,” wrote ethics commission director Jonathan Wayne in a memo to the commissioners. “Yet the residents of those communities were kept in the dark about who was funding the PACs promoting the casino.”

Mendros and Robinson have argued that if they did violate state ethics laws, they did not do so knowingly.

Both said they had no reason to believe that the donors weren’t who they said they were. Both declined to comment outside the hearing.

One of the two out-of-state donors who testified Thursday, Ryan Hill, said he never told Mendros or Robinson where the donations came from and the two men never asked.

Another donor, Scott Nash, was scheduled to testify but the commission ran out of time and was unable to make a final determination. Its next meeting will be held in January.

Hill, Nash and another man, Dwayne Graham, were partners in a Maine-based LLC that formed in 2011 and would have been the casino’s owner had Maine voters approved the initiative. As such, they provided financial backing to the campaign.

Another investor was identified as Chase Burns, a businessman from Oklahoma who was involved in illegal gambling in Florida several years ago.

The commission’s staff originally recommended an $85,000 fine against the two pro-casino political action committees but retreated from that figure after concluding that three emails presented by Robinson in September created a “they said, they said” scenario.

The ethics complaint was filed by Dennis Bailey, executive director of CasinosNO!, which has opposed all efforts to bring gambling to Maine and was the main opponent of the Lewiston casino initiative.

Robinson had not been involved in any political campaigns before the casino referendum. Mendros was a state legislator and a Lewiston city councilor for four years, and pleaded guilty to three counts of falsely notarizing signatures of circulators for gambling petitions in 2007.

Much of the money raised by the two pro-casino PACs went to a Virginia-based company, Dome Messaging, which used the money for television advertising.

Dome Messaging was operated at the time by Brent Littlefield, a well-known Republican operative who is now chief political advisor to Gov. Paul LePage.

Littlefield and Mendros have known each other for years. In the early 1990s, when both men were students at the University of Maine, they ran on the same ticket to lead student government. Mendros was president; Littlefield was vice president.

Both have gone on to become major players in Republican politics in Maine.

Mendros and Robinson testified Thursday that Dome Messaging and Littlefield played a major role in how campaign funds were spent.

No ethics complaints have been filed against Dome Messaging.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

erussell@pressherald.com

Twitter: @PPHEricRussell

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