Published February 26. 2014 4:00PM Updated February 27. 2014 12:25AM
New Haven — Convinced that Steven Thomas had turned himself around years ago, U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton on Wednesday sentenced the former tribal treasurer convicted of stealing from the tribe that owns Foxwoods Resort Casino to two years probation, the first three months of which must be served in home confinement.
Thomas must also repay the tribe $177,603, the amount of his 2007 salary as assistant director of the tribe's Department of Natural Resources Protection, and serve 200 hours of off-reservation community service. The judge chose not to impose a fine.
"Quite impressively, you reformed yourself — and before the hot breath of an investigation was on your neck," the judge said, addressing Thomas and his attorney, Richard Reeve, who stood before her at a lectern. "That's a strong statement."
Reeve had argued in a pre-sentencing memorandum that Thomas had accepted responsibility for his wrongdoing well before the federal government began a 2010 investigation into corruption on the Mashantucket reservation.
Thomas left the tribal-government job voluntarily and was elected to the tribal council in 2009. In 2012, he was named council treasurer.
He resigned from the council last Oct. 2, a day before pleading guilty to a single count of embezzling from the tribe. In exchange for his plea, the government dropped two other theft charges and agreed not to oppose Thomas' bid for a prison term shorter than the 12 to 18 months suggested under federal sentencing guidelines.
"It's entirely at the court's discretion," Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Mattei said Wednesday.
Thomas, at the time of his pleading, admitted in court that he "intentionally" signed time cards on which he "overstated" the hours he worked. While the parties had differed over the amount of work Thomas performed, Reeve said Wednesday there was no dispute that "the vast majority of the time, (Thomas) was a no-show employee."
Reeve described Thomas' transformation, a process Reeve said mirrored the tribe's comeback from the financial difficulties that forced it to restructure a debt load of more than $2.2 billion.
"We all hope that a light will go on," Reeve told Arterton. "Sometimes it takes someone bottoming out … and being arrested. Without question, that light went on (for Thomas) and has been shining. It was shining before this investigation ever began."
Thomas, whom the tribe rehired in a new position in December, said he was "brash, very complacent, very entitled and unmotivated" when he first went to work for the tribe. "Then, one day the light bulb switched."
As a councilor, he said, he had to walk among "blood relations" every day and answer tough questions.
"It's all business, all the time," he said. "It was the best thing I could have done. I was looking to redeem myself. … I'll have to do that for the rest of my life."
Thomas' conviction will prevent him from holding tribal office again or working on the tribe-owned casino's gaming floor.
His older brother Michael, indicted along with him in January 2013, was convicted months ago by a jury that found him guilty of embezzling about $100,000 from the tribe by misusing a tribe-issued credit card for personal expenses. He began serving an 18-month prison term last month.
Unlike Steven, Michael Thomas, a former tribal chairman, held office at the time of his transgressions.