2009-01-15 / Local & State

Philly Casino Licensee Has 20-Year-Old Drug Record

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Some state lawmakers are unhappy that a Connecticut tribal leader got a license to operate a planned Philadelphia casino despite a two-decade-old drug conviction, but a gaming board official says another state law barred that from being a factor.

Michael J. Thomas, 40, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot tribe, was sentenced in 1988 to 18 months in a Rhode Island prison and placed on probation until 1994. The tribe is a partner in the Foxwoods Casino project, first proposed along the Delaware River and now sought at a downtown shopping mall.

Under Pennsylvania law, a felon cannot get a gaming license within 15 years of serving out a sentence.

But R. Douglas Sherman, acting chief counsel for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, said the 2006 award of the license was allowed by another Pennsylvania law that bars the use of expunged criminal information from consideration for a license or permit.

"If an applicant had a conviction which had been expunged, it would be impermissible for any licensing body to make a decision based upon that conviction,'' he said.

Rhode Island expunged the criminal record of Thomas, who was eligible for such relief in 2004, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Saturday. The paper said Thomas did not respond to a request for an interview.

An article Friday in The Day of New London, Conn., drew renewed attention to Thomas' background.

Lori Potter, a spokeswoman for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, said all disclosure required by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board "was adhered to during the process of his application.''

Former board chairman Thomas "Tad'' Decker said he and other members did not know about the conviction, but the board should not get evidence it could not use when considering applicants.

"Our board was never informed of this, and appropriately so,'' Decker said.

But Senate Majority Whip Jane Orie, R-Allegheny, said the 2004 law requiring disclosure of criminal records should have overridden the 1979 law regarding the use of expunged information.

"You try to err in favor of not violating the statute - and they (the board) seem to go in the opposite direction.'' she said.

Democratic state Sen. Lawrence M. Farnese Jr., whose district includes the proposed casino, said the license award "should be a red flag.''

GOP state Sen. John Rafferty said "no one convicted of a felony should be part of gaming in Pennsylvania'' and called for the law to be changed.

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