Swapping out tribal leaders
By David Collins Published on 9/16/2009
It's a good thing the fabled magician David Copperfield will be visiting the Mashantucket Pequots' MGM Grand next month.
Maybe he can help them make Michael Thomas, their disgraced tribal chairman, disappear for good.
The Tribal Council has Thomas in a lockdown, on administrative leave, with what appears to be an understanding that they won't remove him from office now while he won't run for re-election in the fall.
It would be so much easier if Copperfield could make Thomas and his embarrassing criminal past and continuing business dealings with convicted felons just - poof - disappear.
Alas, even with the tenuous promise of Thomas exiting the tribal stage, the Mashantuckets might continue to worry how their jittery lenders, still reeling from Thomas' assertion that the tribe would make good on its stipends to tribal members before paying its debt obligations, will now have to take a closer look at their new leader.
Richard E. Sebastian, the vice chairman who seems to have grabbed the helm of the listing Mashantucket ship of state, has his own curious background that would at least raise eyebrows anywhere else in the regulated casino industry.
Tribal government officials do not get any regulatory scrutiny in Connecticut, under the terms of the court-imposed gaming compact that allows the tribe to operate the casino, but tribal members who work directly for the casino must be licensed.
Sebastian, who became director of security for the tribe's original Foxwoods casino, was denied a permanent gaming license by the state in 1993, after regulators alleged he had lied about being fired from a McDonald's restaurant in Providence for stealing.
Sebastian had reported on his gaming application that he left McDonald's for a better job.
State regulators, in saying Sebastian was “unsuitable” for employment at the casino, also disclosed that he had been accused of sexually harassing an employee at the tribe's bingo hall. He also did not provide his military records in response to questions on the extensive gaming application, the regulators said.
“(His) prior activities and reputation pose a threat to the effective regulation of gaming and enhances the chances of unfair and illegal practices, methods and activities in the conduct of gaming activities,” the head of the state's gambling regulation unit said at the time, in denying Sebastian's license.
Sebastian appealed the license rejection, but before the appeals process could go forward he was given a surprise reprieve by John Meskill, the son of a former Connecticut governor who was then the state's top gaming regulator.
Meskill, who vacated the decision by mid-level regulators in the Division of Special Revenue to deny Sebastian a license, later went on to work for the Mashantuckets, as head of their gaming commission, presumably being paid far more than his $73,500 state salary.
Sebastian stayed on in casino security, but he didn't stay out of trouble.
In 1995, he was part of a faction of the tribe that began investigating casino management and he was implicated, along with a state police trooper, in an after-hours break-in at casino offices, part of a records search.
Sebastian was fired from his casino job, and then Tribal Chairman Richard Hayward, loyal to the casino executives, demanded that then Gov. John Rowland investigate the break-in.
The trooper was eventually exonerated and found by a state police investigation to have done nothing wrong.
Sebastian went on to succeed in tribal politics, winning first a seat on the Tribal Council and eventually the vice chairmanship. Hayward was pushed out, unable to muster as many family votes in tribal elections as other contenders.
The move from casino employee to tribal government was good for Sebastian, who reported in a 2004 divorce financial affidavit that he was making $9,904 a week from his tribal councilor salary and $2,360 a week in tribal stipend money.
And, for now anyway, he's in charge.
Just more magic at Mashantucket.
This is the opinion of David Collins.
EDITORIAL FOOTNOTE: Thomas and Sebastian alleged records, if true incredible. Do members of the Mohegan Tribal Council and the Council of Elders have exemplary character? Could any of them violated some laws along the way? Should some of our (the Mohegan Tribe) leaders be investigated. Have they violated our Civil Rights? What do you think?