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Maine Ethics Investigators: Lewiston Casino Campaign Misled Voters
10/08/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

State Ethics Commission investigators claim that two Lewiston men misled local residents during a failed campaign to obtain voter approval for a casino project two years ago. The case centers around the reporting of more than $400,000 in out-of-state contributions. The men facing the potential fines claim they only reported what they knew, and will make their case before the commission next week. A.J. Higgins has more.

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It took nearly two years. But after a series of e-mail exchanges, out-of-state bank account inspections and face-to-face interviews, investigators with the state Ethics Commission say they have enough evidence to prove that Stavros Mendros and Peter Robinson of Lewiston misled voters.

They say the two casino project promoters falsely identified the source of hundreds of thousands of dollars to two political action committees they oversaw. Maine voters rejected the casino plan in 2011, and Jonathan Wayne, executive director for the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, says his investigators have been on the case ever since.

"It did take some time because the commission had to go out and obtain the bank records to find out where the money from the campaign really did come from," Wayne says.

Investigators say the Georgia company identified by Mendros and Robinson as GT Source Corporation had provided more than $400,000 to two pro-casino PACS operated by the men. But in fact, the ethics investigation revealed that GT Source, a supplier of slot machines for the gaming industry, had actually given the PACs no money at all.

Instead, the investigators concluded in a July 1st memo, that most of the money flowed from two Maryland companies involved in commercial gambling ventures. Investigators say they got little help from Mendros and Robinson in getting to the bottom of the funding source issue. Both men were described in the memo as "objectively uncooperative."

"Some of the records were provided to us voluntarily, others required subpoenas - and even an application to a state court in Maryland," Wayne says.

Although Mendros and Robinson told investigators that they believed that the GT Source Corporation was the funding donor to the PACs, ethics investigators say that they received different information from the actual contributors. The investigator added that whether intentional or not, the misreporting by the PACS had the effect of hiding the actual funders from the voters during the closing weeks of the 2011 campaign.

"I just had a feeling that things weren't right," says long-time gambling opponent Dennis Bailey. Bailey was a force in prompting the investigation into the casino PACS. Bailey says he had obtained a copy of a document outlining the funding of the casino that was signed by Robinson.

"I had this contract - I had it during the campaign - that these guys had signed with this mysterious group, basically saying they were going to flip this thing as soon as it passed, and that someone else was paying the bill for the campaign," Bailey says.

Initially, the ethics commission investigators were recommending that the PACs be fined more than $32,000 for the reporting violations. But in their most recent report, they suggest that the commission make a final determination based on the evidence gained from the investigation, and consider appropriate financial penalties for Mendros and Robinson.

The casino investigation will take center stage Oct. 16, when the commission holds its next regular meeting.



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