Former treasurer for Mashantucket Pequots asks to be spared prison in federal theft case

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – The former treasurer for the tribe that owns and operates the Foxwoods Resort Casino is asking to be spared prison time for theft, saying he reformed himself after the sudden wealth of his tribe led to a false sense of entitlement.

Steven Thomas is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 26 for theft from an Indian tribal organization, admitting to misapplying $177,603 for his personal benefit by falsifying time cards. His attorney, Richard Reeve, said the charge was related to pay cards he submitted inflating the hours he worked in 2007 when he was assistant director of the tribe’s natural resources department.

Foxwoods has struggled in recent years to reverse a decline in gambling revenue stemming from a weak economic recovery and growing competition in neighbouring states. Foxwoods, one of the largest casinos in the Western Hemisphere, opened in 1992 and is owned and operated by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation.

Thomas grew up in a poor family, but his life began to change after his family moved to the newly-created Pequot Tribal Reservation in 1986, Reeve said in court papers filed this week. With the opening of the casino, money suddenly was available and Thomas was hired at age 19 for a job at the Natural Resources Department with a starting salary of $45,000 that grew rapidly.

“Steven Thomas’ life symbolized the rags to riches turn of fortune experienced by so many tribal members,” Reeve wrote. “Steven lacked the maturity, experience, knowledge or wisdom to cope with his new-found financial status. Like the tribe, he made many mistakes, misspent much of the money he was paid and given, and over time developed a false sense of ‘entitlement.'”

Thomas abandoned his position as a “limited show” employee of the tribe and was elected to the Tribal Council, helping the Pequots make difficult decisions such as sharply reducing salaries, staff and benefits, including monthly payments to tribal elders, Reeve said.

Those efforts and Thomas’ personal reforms came before the federal investigation, Reeve said. Thomas is remorseful about his conduct but also angry and depressed about the prosecution, his attorney said.

“This case appears to be at or near the outer edge of permissible federal intervention in tribal affairs by the institution of criminal charges,” Reeve wrote.

Sentencing guidelines call for 12 to 18 months in prison, but Reeve asked that Thomas not be sent to prison. He said Thomas repaid his debt to society and the tribe.

Prosecutors said they would defer to the court’s discretion and do not object to a sentence below the advisory guidelines.

Under the plea agreement, Thomas must pay try the tribe $177,603 in restitution.

His brother, former tribal chairman Michael Thomas, is serving an 18-month prison sentence for embezzling about $100,000 to pay for limousine service trips for his mother’s medical appointments and his own personal expenses.