Hearing on Lewiston casino campaign ethics violations set for Thursday

Former Lewiston Mayor Larry Gilbert, left, Stavros Mendros and Ron Chicoine talk to Question 3 supporters after the Lewiston casino failed at the polls in 2011.
Daryn Slover | Sun Journal
Former Lewiston Mayor Larry Gilbert, left, Stavros Mendros and Ron Chicoine talk to Question 3 supporters after the Lewiston casino failed at the polls in 2011.
Posted Dec. 02, 2013, at 6:19 a.m.
Last modified Dec. 02, 2013, at 12:11 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s ethics commission Thursday will take up a case involving the local backers of a 2011 campaign that aimed to bring a casino to downtown Lewiston.

Earlier this year, investigators for the state’s Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices suggested fining Stavros Mendros and Peter Robinson for misleading investigators and the media during and after the failed statewide vote on the casino.

Two political action committees the two men formed to back the casino could face penalties of up to $32,500 for falsely reporting the source of $412,000 in out-of-state campaign contributions.

Through their attorneys, both men say they did not knowingly violate the state’s campaign finance laws. Last week, Mendros also said he believed his attorney would argue that the case against him and the PACs should be dropped for lack of evidence.

“The Commission’s lengthy report is long on words but short on substance that shows any sort of violation of the PAC reporting statutes,” Mendros’ attorney Mark Walker wrote in a letter to the commission in September. “While the Commission Findings claim Mendros, Robinson and the PACs filed late and made multiple material false statements, in reality, Mendros, Robinson and the PACs made every effort to file both timely and accurately … “

A letter from Robinson’s attorney, Elizabeth Germani, states, “There is not one shred of evidence, and certainly none contained in the staff report, from which one could fairly conclude that Peter Robinson knowingly misrepresented the source of contributions to any PAC.”

Germani also argues the case against Robinson should be dismissed.

But according to an investigator’s memo, the PACs — Green Jobs for ME and the People of Lewiston-Auburn — “reported that GT Source, a Georgia corporation, was the sole source of $412,000 in contributions … In fact, GT Source did not contribute any funds to the PACs.”

Also working on the PACs and stumping for the casino was former Lewiston mayor Larry Gilbert and the city’s former police chief, Bill Welch.

The July 1 memo also states that actual contributions, totaling $388,000, came from two Maryland companies and an Oklahoma businessman — all of whom were involved in the casino industry at the time.

Much of the money was also being filtered to a Virginia-based company, Dome Message, which was using the funds to buy television advertising.

A Sun Journal investigation later determined Dome was being operated by political consultant Brent Littlefield, who also works as an advisor for the election campaign of Maine’s Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

In an updated staff memo issued in October, the commission’s staff writes, “The staff believes that the evidence obtained during the investigation is sufficient for the commission to conclude that the PACs’ reports did not substantially conform to the reporting requirements in violation of campaign finance law due to the misreporting of the actual source of the campaign funds.”

That memo also outlines the actions the commission may take, which include making a final determination as to whether campaign finance laws were violated or ordering a more in-depth investigation of the matter.

Commission investigators have said the issue is important because Maine voters have the right to know who actually was backing the effort to bring a casino to Lewiston.

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

The commission is set to meet at 9 a.m. Thursday in a conference room at the State Library in Augusta.

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