Walsh’s steadily expanding casino lawsuit
So far, more smoke than smoking gun
OVER THE LAST SEVEN MONTHS, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has steadily increased the intensity of his legal attacks on the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, to the point where the case is now spinning off in a bewildering number of directions.
At first, the mayor’s lawsuit focused on broad, largely procedural matters: the Gaming Commission’s failure to recognize the city as a host community to the proposed Wynn Resorts casino in Everett; the commission’s failure to disqualify Wynn for purchasing its land in Everett from a group with criminal ties; and the commission’s failure to require Wynn to mitigate traffic in the area.
The city upped the ante in May, accusing the Gaming Commission of awarding a casino license to Wynn through a “corrupt process.” The city’s expanded lawsuit focused heavily on Gaming Commission chairman Stephen Crosby’s alleged advocacy on behalf of Wynn, Crosby’s concealment of a conflict of interest in regard to the Wynn land deal, an illegal transfer of MBTA land to Wynn, and Wynn’s failure to meet city permitting requirements.
Last week, the city raised still more allegations. In a so-called “evidentiary submission,” the city claimed that Wynn Resorts knew about felon involvement in the Everett land deal long before the company said it did and that private detectives working for Wynn were illegally admitted to the state attorney general’s wiretap room at a time when the Everett land deal was being investigated.
Sanders ruled against the city last week and refused to admit the evidentiary submission and a host of other documents into the court record. She said she wouldn’t allow the city to start taking depositions until at least late September, when she is expected to rule on a motion by the Gaming Commission to throw the entire case out of court.
Still, the evidentiary submission is significant because it shows where the city’s lawsuit is headed. Massachusetts law gives the Gaming Commission sweeping powers to interpret and carry out the state gaming statute. Early on in its lawsuit, the city seemed focused on challenging the commission’s interpretation of the statute, but now Boston seems intent on finding actual wrongdoing, whether in the form of illegal acts or a cover-up.
Many of the allegations contained in the evidentiary submission focus on when Wynn Resorts learned about the hidden ownership stake of convicted felon Charles Lightbody in FBT Everett Realty, the company that sold the Everett land to Wynn. Wynn officials say they didn’t become aware of Lightbody’s involvement until they were informed by Gaming Commission investigators in 2013. Investigators working for the Gaming Commission confirm that account.
Yet the city claims in its evidentiary submission that the Gaming Commission interviewed five people who said Wynn’s representatives were informed of or discussed Lightbody’s ownership interest in the land prior to the company signing an option agreement on the property in December 2012. In its court filing, the city included transcripts of interviews conducted by Gaming Commission investigators with Stephen Tocco of ML Strategies, a key advisor to Wynn, and Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria. In both instances, the transcripts show Lightbody’s name had come up in conversations, but not in ways that would necessarily trigger alarm bells.
The transcripts, apparently not part of the Gaming Commission’s official records, were uncovered by attorneys representing Lightbody and others connected with FBT Everett Realty who are facing federal charges for attempting to conceal Lightbody’s ownership stake in the Everett land. Other Gaming Commission and grand jury transcripts that have surfaced in that case suggest officials affiliated with FBT Everett Realty told Wynn representatives about Lightbody’s involvement.
In some ways, the city of Boston and Lightbody are now fighting the same fight. Both are trying to prove that Wynn officials lied when they said they weren’t aware of Lightbody’s involvement and that Gaming Commission investigators helped cover Wynn’s tracks. For Boston, the goal is to discredit the Gaming Commission. For Lightbody, the goal is to show there was no attempt to cover up his involvement in the land deal because Wynn officials were already aware of it.
In its evidentiary submission, the city also alleged “possible misconduct” involving Wynn, the Gaming Commission, and at least one official from the state attorney general’s office. The city alleges the attorney general’s office in the fall of 2013 let private investigators working for Wynn into a secure wiretap room to review files at the time an investigation of Lightbody’s ownership interest in the Everett land was being conducted. The investigation involved wiretap evidence, the city’s complaint says.
“We have looked into the issue raised by the city of Boston and we are confident that staff in this office did not share casino-related information from our investigations with outside individuals,” she said in a statement.