STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
GAMING COMMISSION CHAIR STEPHEN CROSBY, under scrutiny for a potential conflict of interest during the awarding of an eastern Massachusetts casino license, adamantly denied any wrongdoing when speaking with reporters on Thursday.
Crosby said that before the recently reported preliminary ethics inquiry, the state Ethics Commission said he was “doing all the things” he should be doing.
“The Ethics Commission has actually written me a letter saying — prior to this — saying that I’m doing all the things I should be doing,” Crosby said, stating that he has followed ethics regulations and frequently asked the commission for advice. “But you know, people have a right to raise questions and the Ethics Commission will do its thing.”
Crosby said he is cooperating with the inquiry.
The Boston Globe first reported the preliminary inquiry earlier this week, when Crosby confirmed the probe’s existence. The Globe said the investigation began after the commission received a sworn statement alleging that Crosby “actively participated” in the awarding of the license after he officially recused himself from the proceedings. [The Globe said “a person familiar with the probe” read the statement to the newspaper, but refused to identify the person who made the statement. The Globe noted the sworn statement parallels claims made in a lawsuit filed by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.]
At the beginning of their meeting on Thursday, two of Crosby’s fellow gambling commissioners, James McHugh and Enrique Zuniga, said Crosby did not get involved with the awarding of the eastern Massachusetts casino license after he recused himself on May 8, 2014. The other two commissioners, Gayle Cameron and Bruce Stebbins, did not speak but nodded their heads in agreement with their colleagues.
Speaking to reporters during a break in the meeting, Crosby acknowledged that he had a friend who ended up owning land that was eventually sold to Wynn, which is seeking to build a casino in Everett, located in “Region A.”
“That was totally unpredictable,” Crosby said. “But I disclosed that relationship at the appropriate time. As the commissioner [McHugh] said, when I recused myself, I was totally out of it. I had nothing to do with the decision-making on the license. We’ve been prepared for unhappy, losing applicants. Each time we’ve issued a license, we’ve had unhappy losing applicants. And that’s part of the business.”
The Gaming Commission voted in September 2014 to hand the resort casino license to Wynn over a rival proposal to site a casino at Suffolk Downs in Revere.
Asked if he had spoken with Gov. Charlie Baker, Crosby said he had not, but he had called to give a “heads up” to the offices of the governor and the attorney general that news of the inquiry would be coming out.
Crosby sent a letter to Baker on Jan. 13, 2015 outlining his various ethics-related disclosures over the years to Gov. Deval Patrick, who appointed Crosby as chair of the five-member gaming commission in 2011.
The disclosures revolve around his “distant” relationship with Paul Lohnes, one of the owners of the land that Wynn bought after winning the license in September 2014.
Crosby has known Lohnes since they served together in the National Guard in the 1970s, and he invested in a Crosby company 30 years ago.
“I initially voluntarily recused myself from all matters concerning the disposition of the Everett land, and subsequently voluntarily recused myself from the Region A decision-making process altogether,” Crosby wrote.
In the same letter, Crosby noted that Wynn completed the purchase of the property earlier in January, and the landowners were “totally and permanently separated” from development of the $1.7 billion casino or the use of the land.
“In the future, I will of course always be mindful of the relevant conflict of interest laws, including the Commission’s Enhanced Code of Ethics,” Crosby wrote.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo, in response to questions about both Crosby and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s expanded lawsuit against the commission regarding the eastern Massachusetts casino license, said he does not think the licensing process should be restarted.
“I think that the procedure that we set forth in the law, I think, was followed. It was meant to be a long, involved type of process and I think that the commission followed that, made their decision and hopefully soon we can move on,” DeLeo said. “Having said that, I mean if there are any findings as to any improprieties or anything else like that then that’s maybe a discussion later on, but as of right now I look at them strictly as allegations and I still think that we should move forward.”
The Gaming Commission also announced on Thursday that Bill Walczak, a casino opponent who ran for mayor of Boston in 2013, and former Rep. Thomas Conroy, a vice president at the Pew Charitable Trusts, will be advising the commission in the future.
Matt Murphy contributed reporting.