AUGUSTA –– Lawyers for the backers of a ballot initiative to build a casino in York County refused to accept subpoenas from staff of the Maine Ethics Commission on Friday, moments after the panel voted unanimously to investigate the finances of the campaign.
The attorneys representing Lisa Scott and Shawn Scott walked out of the ethics meeting room without accepting the subpoenas. Bruce Merrill, who represents Lisa Scott, declined to answer reporters’ questions but said he could not accept service of a document he had not discussed with his client. Alexis Fallon, who represents Shawn Scott, also declined to comment.
Commission members, after more than two hours of debate Friday morning, seemed to be left with more questions, They concluded unanimously that an investigation into Horseracing Jobs Fairness, the committee behind the $4 million campaign, and its principal, Lisa Scott of Miami, was warranted.
Shawn Scott, who through two of his companies loaned most of the money to his sister for the effort, will be part of the investigation. The probe is expected to take several weeks or even months and could cast a shadow over the committee’s effort to convince voters to support the referendum in November.
Members urged ethics commission Director Jonathan Wayne and his staff to work fast to complete the investigation as quickly as possible. Wayne said that even though the subpoenas were not accepted Friday, his staff will continue to request documents relevant to the investigation.
“We are assessing next steps but do not intend to discuss them publicly,” he said.
The subpoenas were for bank and finances records as well as electronic communication between the Scotts and their representatives in Maine – namely Cheryl Timberlake, an Augusta lobbyist who serves as treasurer of the Horseracing Jobs Fairness committee. Timberlake was questioned briefly Friday by ethics commission members but also declined to be interviewed by reporters.
Prior to Friday’s meeting, the ethics commission staff – in a detailed memo – had strongly recommended an investigation, as did lawmakers from both parties who believe Mainers were being misled about who was behind the proposal.
Lisa Scott is the sister of Shawn Scott, a former Las Vegas and now Northern Mariana Island investor and developer who has a checkered past relative to casino projects both in the United States and overseas.
Shawn Scott was behind the effort to open Maine’s first gambling facility in Bangor. He successfully led a statewide referendum in 2003 and then sold the rights to Penn National, which now operates Hollywood Casino. Prior to that sale, an investigation into Shawn Scott revealed a long history of questionable and deceptive practices in other states, including Nevada, New York and Louisiana.
The effort to bring another casino to Maine began in late 2015 with a petition-gathering effort. It was led publicly by Lisa Scott but the proposed refendum said that if it passed, the Maine Gambling Control Board could accept applications for a casino license, but qualifying applications could only come “from an entity that owned in 2003 at least 51 percent of an entity licensed to operate a commercial track in Penobscot County.”
The only person who fits that definition is Shawn Scott.
The first petition effort failed after nearly half the signatures gathered were deemed invalid. However, a second petition was successful and the question has been certified for the November ballot. It will ask voters to support or reject a casino to be located in southern Maine.
Since the petition has been approved, ethics commission staff and lawmakers have expressed growing concerns about whether Lisa Scott or her ballot committee properly disclosed the source of its funding – much of which was linked to her brother and his companies.
Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, and Rep. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, the co-chairs of the legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, have discussed an unprecedented action by which they would pass a bill in the Legislature to approve the referendum and then immediately repeal it. That would nullify the referendum.
Commission members asked Merrill and Fallon repeatedly why the funding sources were so complicated and shrouded in secrecy. Merrill said Timberlake, who filed the financial disclosure for the ballot committee, assumed all the money disclosed came from Lisa Scott or an associated LLC, Miami Developments. Merrill said when the committee was notified that their forms may have been incomplete. they immediately filed updated ones.
“It was done in good faith. There was never an effort not to do it right,” he said.
Fallon, explaining why there were multiple LLCs involved even though the money only came from one place, said that was simply “how things work.”
“If this wasn’t a political campaign, we wouldn’t even be questioned,” she said.
Both attorneys maintained that their clients did nothing wrong and each pointed out that Maine’s statute did not require them to detail exactly where the money was coming from.
At one point, commission member Richard Nass asked Fallon about Shawn Scott’s financial history, which Nass called, “a mess.”
“Fourteen years is a long time,” she said, referring to her client’s last investment in Maine.
“Yeah, but I don’t see that anything has changed,” Nass replied.
Nass also called out Merrill after the attorney said the problems arose because of Maine’s poorly-worded statute.
“No it isn’t,” he said. “No, that’s smoke and mirrors.”
The crux of the investigation, based on the line of questioning Friday, could hinge on whether the committee needed to disclose that much of the money for the initiative came from companies associated with Shawn Scott – in the form of loans – but were reported as coming from Lisa Scott and her company.
Toward the end of Friday’s meeting, it appeared as though Merrill and Fallon had pledged to cooperate with any investigation, although their refusal to accept subpoenas called that into question.
Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at: