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Seminole gambling

Seminoles gain entry in Caribbean casino

By BRAD GOLDSTEIN, DAVID ADAMS and JEFF TESTERMAN

Times Staff Writers


For three years, the Seminole tribe has been quietly investing money in a casino on the tiny Caribbean island of St. Maarten.

The amount of the investment in the Lightning casino has not been great -- $800,000 -- nor does it appear to have been a good one so far. According to financial statements obtained by the Times, the casino in the past two years lost more than $1-million a year. In the first quarter of this year, however, it did return a profit -- $28,000.

Also investing in the Lightning casino are James P. "Skip" Weisman and his brother EugeneP. "Butch" Moriarty, the former managers of the Seminole tribe's Hollywood casino.

Three years ago, the Times has learned, a federal lawsuit unearthed allegations that boxes of money were being sent from the Hollywood casino to St. Maarten.

Seminole Management Associates (SMA), the management company that ran the Hollywood casino at the time, had been sued by a casino security guard who said he was fired because he had AIDS. Dade County lawyer Marc Sarnoff represented the fired guard and he sent a private investigator to interview employees at the Hollywood casino.

Sharon Lyons, a bingo-card seller, told the investigator she saw James Weisman packing cash into cardboard boxes and sending them off with an United Parcel Service delivery person.

"She was told . . . that if she wanted to keep her legs, keep her mouth shut," wrote investigator Roger Odoms, a former Seminole police officer.

Weisman denied shipping cash. The boxes were filled with "janitorial supplies, pingpong balls, your balls, your papers, your do-it-yourselfs, different forms to run an office, your boards, just a myriad of different items," Weisman said in a sworn deposition.

A federal judge ordered SMA to produce all records of UPS and Federal Express shipments to the St. Maarten casino. A week later, Sarnoff said, SMA offered to settle and the case was resolved out of court.

St. Maarten is east of Puerto Rico and is administered by the Netherlands. The State Department has identified St. Maarten as a center for cocaine and heroin shipments to the United States, and a haven for launderers of drug money.

On St. Maarten, people identified in Italian police documents as members of the Santapoala crime family of Sicily own some of the other casinos.

The Santapoala family is particularly infamous. Benedetto "Nitto" Santapoala, head of the family, was sentenced to life in prison in September for his role in the killing of Giovanni Falcone, Italy's top anti-Mafia prosecutor. Falcone, his wife and three bodyguards were killed in 1992 by a remotely controlled car bomb. The murders spurred a crackdown on the Mafia.

When the Lightning casino applied for a license to open an Internet gambling site, the Dutch Ministry of Justice rejected it. Ministry of Justice documents show it had received information about the casino's management that would "hurt the good name" of the Netherlands, according to ministry of justice records. The Internet site, however, remains open and accepts bets from the United States.

The Seminole tribe is negotiating with the Weisman brothers to possibly set up a second Internet gambling site on the island of St. Kitts, said tribal attorney Jim Shore.  

  ©Copyright 2006 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.