AUGUSTA — Maine’s ethics watchdog may soon begin an investigation into the bid for a new casino in York County by a group that has been giving them plenty to think about during the past few months.

Staff at the Maine Ethics Commission will recommend at a June 9 meeting that commissioners authorize an investigation into the web of companies backing the November referendum, an effort fronted by Lisa Scott, the sister of U.S. Virgin Islands casino developer Shawn Scott.

He runs a company that would have sole rights to the casino if they win at the ballot, but in campaign filings going back to 2015 Lisa Scott portrayed herself as the campaign’s sole funder, putting $4.2 million into a political action committee as of March’s end.

That was until April, when documents were filed showing the money came from her brother’s Las Vegas company and a Japanese company, routed through Lisa Scott and two other companies — one in Miami company and one in the U.S. commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The commission made a handy flow chart to track it.

That’s an apparent violation of Maine law, which makes groups spending at least $5,000 on elections disclose it within a week, and Maine Ethics Commission Executive Director Jonathan Wayne argued in a memo that most of these filings should be viewed as late, which could carry heavy fines under the law.

However, Horseracing Jobs Fairness, Lisa Scott’s political action committee, responded that it’s now in full compliance with the law and a probe is unnecessary. The two investing companies said it would “vigorously protest” fines.

But Wayne’s memo says the commission staff should ask for bank and loan documents and written communication between the entities funding the bid and ask Lisa Scott and lobbyist Cheryl Timberlake, the political committee’s treasurer, to testify under oath. He recommends waiting to see what the investigation turns up before asking Shawn Scott to testify.

The casino mogul has a history of complex financial dealings and already scored big in Maine, where he persuaded voters in 2003 to allow slot machines at a Bangor facility that became Hollywood Casino after he sold the rights for $51 million without getting a license.

That 2003 bid was hindered by a bombshell report from the Maine Harness Racing Commission, finding sloppy financial management, a history of lawsuits and one associate’s history of criminal convictions.

Scott’s current Maine troubles closely resemble a 2016 casino campaign linked to him in Massachusetts that drew $125,000 in ethics penalties for concealing contributions that came after a settlement. Wayne’s memo says a settlement could be an option here, but it would “result in less public information concerning the underlying circumstances of the violations.”

The bid has already been suffering for lack of political support, with the Maine Legislature considering a novel move to pass the casino law, then immediately repeal it to stop it from going to voters.

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AP

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