Former Mashantucket Pequot Chairman, Current Treasurer Plead Not Guilty to Stealing $800,000
At a January 7 hearing, the former chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, and his brother, the tribe's current treasurer, pleaded not guilty to charges that they stole more than $800,000 from their tribal government and an Indian organization, reported the Associated Press.
Former chairman Michael Thomas is accused of pocketing more than $100,000 in tribal funds from October 2007 through April 2009. Michael, 44, served as chairman from 2003 to 2009, when he was ousted by the tribal council for his management of tribal finances, reported the AP.
Treasurer Steven Thomas, elected to the tribal council in November, is charged with stealing more than $700,000 when he was assistant director of the tribe's natural resources department from January 2005 to June 2008, reported The Patch.
Yesterday the brothers appeared in U.S. District Court in New Haven, Connecticut and were released on $100,000 bond.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Inspector General are investigating the case, which is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Mattei.
Mashantucket Pequot spokesman William Satti released a statement that the tribal council believes the federal charges threaten tribal sovereignty.
“We are disappointed in the federal government’s decision to move forward with this action, and feel that this has strong implications on self-governance throughout Indian Country,” the statement said.
The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation operates the successful Foxwoods Casino Resort on its reservation in Ledyard, Connecticut. The tribe’s roughly 900 members once enjoyed annual payouts of $100,000 per adult member, but the recession coupled with the costly expansion of the MGM Grand hotel and casino in 2008 lead to mounting debt for the tribe. Still, Michael Thomas pledged to make revenue-sharing payments a priority, which incited the tribal council to force him out of his role. In 2012, the tribe successfully restructured $2 billion in debt and eliminated tribal member distributions.
The brothers are each charged with one count of theft from an Indian tribal organization and two counts of theft from an Indian tribal government receiving federal funds, reported The Patch. A conviction of stealing from an Indian tribal organization is punishable by a maximum term of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. A guilty verdict for stealing from an Indian tribal government receiving federal funds could land a person up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 on each count, in addition to forfeiture of the stolen funds and merchandise.