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Attorney General Martha Coakley unveiled legislation Monday designed to help police and investigators crack down on crimes associated with casino gambling - from money laundering to loan sharking.
The bill is intended to establish some of the legal groundwork needed as lawmakers weigh whether to expand gaming in Massachusetts, either in the form of slot machines or casinos, to boost needed revenues.
Coakley said Massachusetts trails other states when it comes to its wiretapping, organized crime and money laundering statutes. Of 11 states that permit commercial gaming, she said, nine have money laundering statutes.
"It's my responsibility as we move forward perhaps with a discussion of expanded gambling to make sure that Massachusetts, and the Legislature and the governor, have the best advice about ... how it must be done in a prudent manner," Coakley said.
The bill would make it a crime to engage in money laundering, defined in part as to knowingly engage in a financial transaction derived from criminal activity. Anyone convicted would face six years in prison.
The legislation also targets so-called "enterprise crime" - from the more traditional organized crime families, to identify theft rings and human trafficking groups.
The bill would set a maximum 15 years in prison for those convicted.
Coakley said the changes will go after those at the upper echelons of criminal enterprises instead of just street level criminals.
"Those who profit, though who never dirty their hands in the enterprise, should know that they will now be investigated and prosecuted," she said. "Theft and embezzlement by way of doing business should not be viewed as a no interest loan."
Finally the bill would update the state's wiretap laws to expand the range of crimes wiretaps can be used to investigate, including public corruption and ethics investigations. It would also allow for one-party consent for wiretaps and extend the time a lawful interception can remain open from 15 to 30 days.
Massachusetts wiretap laws were last updated in 1968, well before the arrival of cell phones and other forms on electronic communications common now.
Massachusetts is just one of five states in the country to fall short in all three areas, money laundering, enterprise crime and wiretap laws, according to Coakley.
"Massachusetts is behind the curve," she said.
Gov. Deval Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo all support some kind of expanded gaming, although they differ in key details. Lawmakers are expected to take up the gaming issue as early as this fall.
Anti-gambling advocates said Coakley's decision to unveil the bill is one more indication that casinos and slot machines are gaining steam on Beacon Hill.
Kathleen Conley Norbut, a resident of Monson and member of the group United to Stop Slots in Mass, said Coakley should have asked for public input before unveiling the bill.
"The attorney general's decision to move ahead with this framework ... is unfortunate because it really hasn't been done in the public sphere," she said. "We don't know if this was at the behest of the senate president. We don't know what prompted the attorney general to take these preparatory steps."
Murray, D-Plymouth, said she looked forward to working with Coakley.
"The areas outlined in the attorney general's bill are places where we need to make sure our laws keep up with the times," Murray said.
Coakley said the even without the push for casinos or slot machines the state needs to update the laws. She said the state still needs to draft the regulatory framework required to oversee expanded gaming.
This program aired on August 3, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.
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