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Regulators have ties to Seminoles
By BRAD GOLDSTEIN and JEFF TESTERMAN
Times Staff Writers
The National Indian Gaming Commission was created to regulate Indian gambling. Lobbying on behalf of Indian tribes is not supposed to be part of the job.
Yet the commission recently tried to broker a deal on behalf of the Seminole Tribe of Florida to legalize full-scale casino gambling across the state.
"They're not regulators, they're cheerleaders," said John Glogau, an assistant Florida attorney general who was part of those discussions.
In recent years, a growing number of people -- including former NIGC employees -- have taken issue with the close relationship between the agency and those it is supposed to oversee.
One former chairman resigned after it was revealed that he accepted donations from a lobbying group. Questions were raised at a Senate hearing about a commissioner's relationship with an Indian gambling company lobbyist. And the agency's new executive administrator was a lobbyist for one of the six Indian tribes at the center of an ongoing campaign finance investigation involving Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, records show.
Federal auditors and court cases reveal other problems with the agency: Meetings are held in secret, minutes are not kept, requests for information languish or go unanswered, attendance records are sketchy, travel expenses get reimbursed with little documentation, and no guidelines exist to prohibit employees from accepting industry perks.
Meanwhile, 45 percent of the 276 Indian gambling halls under NIGC's jurisdiction do not abide by the law -- the casinos run by the Seminole tribe among them. Those out of compliance either refused to supply an independent audit, did not conduct background investigations, operated gambling devices such as slot machines without state approval, or failed to pay required fees.
The Seminoles, for instance, have never gotten required approval by the NIGC of their contract with a private company to run the Tampa bingo hall despite regulations requiring them to do so. Pan American & Associates has run the Tampa hall since 1982.
"This is a tribal issue," said Buddy Levy, general counsel for Pan American. "One of the reasons that we feel like we have such good relations with the tribe is we never get involved in any matters outside of the four corners of this building."
The NIGC last year rejected Seminole Management Associates' contract to run the tribe's Hollywood hall because some of the company's shareholders did not pass background checks.
SMA ran the hall for 17 years and faced repeated allegations of corruption and mob influence.
"We always knew the mob was there," said Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth, who was the sheriff of Broward County when the Seminoles' Hollywood hall opened. "We just couldn't prove it."
A California Department of Justice report from the mid-1980s on Indian bingo alleged a tie between a partner in the company that ran the Hollywood hall and the Sebastian Larocca crime family in Pittsburgh. A 1995 FBI document also showed a connection between the Seminoles' bingo hall and the Larocca mob and the Genovese crime family in New York City.
Al La Manna, a 30-year FBI agent and an expert on organized crime, told the Times he attended a meeting in late 1979 or 1980 during which a Metro Dade detective distributed a chart showing organized crime infiltration of the Hollywood operation.
Near the end of the 1980s, La Manna said, the Bureau of Prisons picked up telephone calls made by Thomas Ralph Farese, a member of the Colombo crime family in New York, instructing his crew in south Florida to "take over the Indian casino." La Manna did not know whether they succeeded.
"Taking a look at the activities of the Lucchese and Colombo families would clearly indicate to anyone with any brains that the mob was interested in what was going on with the Hollywood bingo hall," said La Manna, who now is a security analyst for a south Florida health-care firm.
In 1990, the U.S. Inspector General's Office also raised concerns about organized crime involvement in the hall.
Why did the NIGC wait so long to move against SMA?
For a time, Ted Boyd, the tribe's comptroller, was on the payroll of the Hollywood casino -- keeping the books for the casino managers that he would later review for the tribe. He did so at Billie's request, he said, despite the apparent conflict of interest. "He wanted me to keep a watch on them," Boyd told the Times, "and this was one way to do that."
Similarly, Bruce Rogow, the lawyer who represents SMA, also serves as a lawyer for the tribe.
The recent NIGC audit did not examine the commissioners' activities to see if they adhered to federal rules governing gifts, or if the agency had established any ethical guidelines for its employees. In contrast, the Nevada Gaming Commission has a policy that forbids its staff members from accepting trips, receiving complimentary rooms or having a financial stake in a gambling company.
St. Petersburg Times.
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