- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 9, 2004

The two offshore firms that funded a failed initiative for a gambling hall in Northeast have spent more than $1 million in their lobbying efforts, according to new filings with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance.

More than a quarter of the money, $269,000, was paid to Manatt Phelps and Phillips, the law firm that employs lawyer John Ray, the former D.C. Council member who has led the lobbying effort, the documents stated.

Pedro Alfonso, the only local investor identified in official filings, has yet to put money into the project. However, he earned $42,000 as a consultant, according to the documents. Mr. Alfonso is also head of the D.C.-based Dynamic Concepts Inc. telecommunications firm.

Supporters of the proposed $500 million gambling hall have taken their case to the D.C. Court of Appeals. But a three-judge panel said Wednesday that it is not likely to overturn the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics’ decision last month that organizers failed to collect enough legally acquired signatures. The appeal decision is expected soon.

North Atlantic Investments LLC paid $927,700, the majority of the money for the lobbying effort. The St. Croix-based venture capital firm was incorporated in Delaware on April 21 — the day before the gambling initiative was submitted to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics.

The remaining $79,759 was supplied by Bridge Capital LLC, which shares a St. Croix address with North Atlantic and whose officers have ties to several recent failed gambling ventures nationwide.

The document’s expense category showed five payments totaling $678.05 to Vincent B. Orange Jr., son of D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange, who represents Ward 5, in which the casino would be built.

Norman Neverson, the former head of the D.C. Democratic Party, was paid $5,000 by supporters of the initiative.

Vicky Wilcher, the former head of the D.C. Republican Party and treasurer of the Citizens Committee for the D.C. Video Lottery Terminal Initiative, was paid $12,880, according to the documents.

Miss Wilcher was accused of intimidating a petition circulator, who was subpoenaed to testify at the hearings about irregularities she reported witnessing during the signature-gathering process.

The casino was slated to be built on a 14-acre triangle of property bounded by New York Avenue, Bladensburg Road and Montana Avenue in Northeast. It would have had 3,500 video lottery terminals, which are similar to slot machines.

Election board members Wilma A. Lewis, Charles Lowery and Lenora Cole voted to reject the Video Lottery Terminal Initiative of 2004 after the board’s executive director, Alice P. Miller, reported that only 14,687 signatures were obtained legally from registered D.C. voters. The city required 17,599.

Supporters submitted 56,044 signatures after a petition drive staged July 1-6. But Mrs. Lewis said a significant part of the signature-gathering process was “fatally flawed.”

Mrs. Lewis said the board concluded that the petition organizers used out-of-town circulators to collect signatures instead of simply assisting D.C. collectors; employed circulators who forged signatures; misrepresented the substance of the initiative to signers; and failed to exercise oversight of circulators.

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