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The head of the FBI's Boston office said Monday he's concerned the expansion of casino gambling might lead to an increase in public corruption and financial and organized crime.
Special Agent Vincent Lisi, whose office covers Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, said the industry's growth provides "fertile ground" for bribery, fraud and abuse. "When you look at legalized gaming, you have a heavy amount of regulation, along with a lucrative business," he said. "Those two factors combined make for pretty fertile grounds for corruption of public officials."
In Massachusetts, the state licenses and regulates casino operators and assesses state taxes on their gambling profits while cities and towns are charged with issuing local building and zoning permits and assessing local property taxes.
Lisi made the comments Monday as the Boston office announced it will launch a dedicated, toll-free tip line focused on public corruption: 1-844-NOBRIBE (662-7423). It will also launch a billboard advertising campaign called "Stop Corruption Now" and will promote the initiative through Facebook. Tips also can be submitted online at tips.fbi.gov.
Lisi stressed that the tip line is not a direct response to the burgeoning regional casino industry.
Instead, he said it's prompted by a steady rise in public corruption-related cases the office has dealt with in recent years. Among them: the 2013 sentencing of a Rhode Island man in a kickback scheme that defrauded the U.S. Navy of nearly $18 million and the 2011 conviction of former Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi on bribery charges.
"If you look at some of the cases we've had in the past, you'd think they'd be deterrents and that there would be a decline in the numbers that we've had," Lisi said. "That's not been the case."
But at least in Massachusetts, potential criminal activity has been a prominent part of the public debate over the casino industry.
For example, three owners of the waterfront land that Wynn Resorts plans to build into a $1.6 billion resort casino in Everett face federal wire fraud charges. They allegedly tried to hide from state regulators and the casino company the fact that a convicted felon and known mob associate named Charles Lightbody would profit from the land deal, in violation of state statutes.
And the state gambling commission is conducting an inquiry after The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the IRS has requested information on Wynn's clients, domestic and overseas marketing offices and internal controls. The newspaper said federal authorities are probing whether the Las Vegas-based gambling giant violated money laundering laws.
Lisi said the federal case dealing with the Everett land sale is ongoing; he declined to comment on the apparent IRS investigation into money laundering.
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