- Associated Press - Monday, April 23, 2018

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut’s two federally recognized tribes on Monday welcomed an investigation by the U.S. Department of Interior’s inspector general into the federal agency’s handling of their delayed satellite casino project.

“Since last fall, none of the department’s actions have passed the smell test,” said Andrew Doba, spokesman for MMCT, the business venture formed by the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes. “Something clearly happened to pollute the process, which should be problematic for an administration that promised to drain the swamp.”

The department took no action on proposed amendments to the revenue-sharing agreements between Connecticut and the two tribes, who own and operate Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino in southeastern Connecticut and currently pay the state 25 percent of the slot machine revenue. State legislation requires federal approval of those changes before the new jointly owned casino can open in East Windsor, on non-tribal land, to compete with a new MGM Resorts casino that’s opening later this year in nearby Springfield, Mass. Without the federal approval, the project has remained in limbo.

The tribe and state have sued the Department of Interior over the lack of action.

Nancy DiPaolo, a spokeswoman for the inspector general, confirmed Monday that a probe began in mid-February. It was requested by members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation, who questioned whether the federal agency delayed the project because it had been influenced by MGM lobbyists. Politico reported Sunday that Trump administration officials rejected recommendations from staff to approve the tribes’ proposed amendments. The news organization cited documents released under the Freedom of Information Act that showed career employees were circulating messages labeled as “approval” letters 48 hours before top officials decided to take no action.



Nedra Darling, a spokeswoman for the Department of Interior, said she was unable to comment on the investigation because the matter is in litigation.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said he and other members of the delegation asked for the investigation after becoming concerned about a potential conflict of interest at the department. He said copies of certain documents regarding the tribal venture were sent to MGM and members of Congress from Nevada, where the gambling giant is based, but not to the Connecticut congressional delegation.

“We have requested meetings. We’ve submitted letters. We have never been given any sort of access to a meeting,” Blumenthal said. “They basically stonewalled us. And at the same time, they sent copies of certain correspondence to the Nevada congressional delegation. There is a paper trail here that is very troubling.”

A message was left seeking comment with a MGM spokesman.

While the tribes and state argue there is a presumption the Department of Interior has essentially approved the proposed changes to the revenue-sharing agreement by not rejecting them, state Attorney General George Jepsen recently issued a legal opinion, saying the state law still requires the federal approval before the new casino can open.

The tribes have argued they need to open the satellite casino near the Massachusetts border to help save jobs at their existing casinos.

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