LEWISTON — A Lewiston political operative is again at the center of a campaign that’s seeking to bring another casino to Maine, this time to York County.

The campaign has spent $156,000 since it began in October, according to the most recent campaign finance reports available from the state.

Much of that money — $111,935 — has been paid to the Lewiston-based Olympic Consulting, which is owned and operated by Stavros Mendros, a former state representative and city councilor. More than half of that money, $67,000, was reported as salaries for those gathering signatures. 

Contacted by phone Friday, Mendros declined to comment, saying he couldn’t discuss anything about the campaign, its finances or its tactics. Mendros previously worked on a failed 2011 referendum effort to place a casino in downtown Lewiston.

Maine voters have been asked five times to authorize casinos but have only approved two of those ballot questions, the first in 2005 for Bangor and the second in 2012 for Oxford.

A call to the York County casino campaign’s Augusta-based treasurer, Cheryl Timberlake — a registered lobbyist in Maine — was not returned Friday.

Details in an earlier campaign finance report for the current campaign show expenses that include bus tickets from Texas to Maine and lodging at the Motel 6 in Lewiston. The campaign report also shows expenses for automobile rentals and airline tickets.

Lisa Scott, a Miami-based real estate developer, has contributed $108,000 in cash to the campaign, and the most recent report shows the campaign has about a $48,000 shortfall between cash donations and expenses as of Jan. 15.

Scott is the sister of casino developer Shawn Scott, who bought the Bangor Raceway and then bankrolled a 2003 campaign to allow slot machines there, according to a Bangor Daily News report. He eventually sold his operations to the current operator of Hollywood Casino for $51 million.

Another company, Silver Bullet Group, based in Cheyenne, Wyo., was paid $15,000 for salaries of some of those gathering signatures in Maine.

On Friday, a pair of men collecting signatures in front of the Lewiston Public Library on Lisbon Street refused to give their names or to say where they were from.

Both said they were Maine residents but neither would show a reporter from the Sun Journal their identification. When asked for more information about the work they were doing one of the two men said simply, “We’re busy; we have to go now.” 

But Bret Martel, an Auburn resident, who was also collecting signatures for the campaign on Lisbon Street, was happy to show his state-issued driver’s license and share his address.

Martel said he was gathering signatures for the casino campaign and was being paid $7 per signature. Martel said he believed he would receive $10 per signature once he reached 100 signatures. He said he didn’t know the other two men and was simply trying to make a living.

“I’ve been out since 7 this morning doing this. It’s tough to make money in this town, you know,” Martel said. “Normally, they only pay a dollar or two per signature so when I found out they were paying seven bucks, up to 10 depending on how many you get, you know, that’s money I can earn.”

He said some of those gathering signatures are from out of state. Under Maine law, signatures must be witnessed by Maine residents, so the signature gatherers are often paired, one out-of-state person working with one Mainer.

“It’s cold right now and we’re everywhere,” Martel said. “I think this is an important part of the democratic process. Whether or not you want a casino isn’t the issue. It’s whether or not we get to vote on it compared to if a legislator gets to vote on it, which may or may not have our best interests at heart.”

Martel said he had nothing to hide. “Everything is above board,” Martel said. He said some gathering signatures had been warned about collecting signatures on private property and were not respectful about it.

“I think there’s a balance that needs to be struck between the process that needs to happen and be respectful enough that when you are asked to leave, you leave,” Martel said. 

Others, including elected officials, have also questioned some of the tactics being used by the so-called “professionals” gathering signatures.

Bangor City Councilor Ben Sprague and state Rep. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, have spoken out about the campaign’s tactics.

Luchini, the House chairman of the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over gambling, called the effort, “another example of out-of-state interests trying to buy Maine’s citizen referendum process.”

He added, “Maine people don’t like that when it happens.” 

Lawmakers are considering a bill that would bring another casino to southern Maine but in the past have been reluctant to authorize any expansion of gambling without a statewide vote.

Sprague in a Facebook post on Monday wrote that the effort was “dishonest and over the top.”

“I don’t have a problem with free speech or petition efforts, but it seems that they’re being really aggressive about it,” said Sprague, who is opposed to any additional casinos in Maine, “and I can’t walk around downtown Bangor for a block without being bothered.”

According to an employee at one Lewiston business, the signature gatherers had gotten so aggressive inside the business that police were called to remove them. An employee at an Auburn business reported the same behavior to police there. 

Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, who oversees the ballot question and election process, said those collecting signatures in public places were simply exercising their First Amendment rights. He said it was the same rights newspaper reporters enjoy when they talk to citizens on the street.

Dunlap said the right to free speech doesn’t include a responsibility to speak truthfully, but people also are not required to sign anything if they don’t like the answers they get from the people asking for a signature.

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Bangor Daily News staff writers Michael Shepherd and Micky Bidell contributed to this report.

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