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Three incumbents, including chairman, seek re-election to Mashantucket council

By Brian Hallenbeck

Publication: The Day

Published October 03. 2012 4:00AM   Updated October 03. 2012 2:35PM
Steven Thomas, once the focus of an FBI probe, is trying for a second term

Mashantucket - Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council, is seeking re-election to the council, as are incumbents Steven Thomas, at one time a target of an ongoing FBI probe of tribal finances, and Crystal Whipple.

Challengers Scott Barton, John A. Colebut and Cynthia Sebastian-Welch also are vying for the three council seats up for election Nov. 4.

The names of the six candidates were released to tribal members this week.

Butler, elected chairman in 2009, is seeking a fourth consecutive three-year term on the council. Thomas, who became council treasurer in January, and Whipple are seeking their second terms.

Thomas is no longer a focus of the FBI investigation, according to sources with knowledge of tribal affairs.

Quoting sources, The Day reported in May that Thomas, his brother, Michael Thomas, and a third tribal member, Stewart Sebastian, had been informed they were "targets" of the probe. According to one source, the FBI had alleged that Michael Thomas, a former council chairman, used a corporate credit card for personal purchases and failed to reimburse the tribe, while Steven Thomas and Sebastian had been targeted for accepting payment for "no show" jobs they never performed.

Steven Thomas could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Neither Michael Thomas nor an attorney representing Steven Thomas responded to messages.

The field of candidates for the tribal council is unusually small.

A year ago, when two of the seats on the seven-member council were up for election, 13 tribal members declared their candidacies. In 2010, eight candidates vied for two available seats and in 2009, a record 19 candidates ran for three seats.

In the 2009 election, tribal members elected Butler, Thomas and Whipple to the council and then elected Butler chairman in a separate vote. Butler succeeded Michael Thomas as chairman at a tumultuous time for the council, which governs the tribe and also oversees its gaming enterprises, Foxwoods Resort Casino and MGM Grand at Foxwoods.

Michael Thomas, who would have been up for re-election in 2009, had been removed from the council months earlier by a vote of his fellow councilors. Thomas had caused an uproar by pledging to put funding for tribal government and distributions to tribal members ahead of the tribe's financial obligations. The tribe since has been dealing with a debt load of more than $2 billion and only recently reached restructuring agreements with a majority of its lenders.

The tribe did not respond to a request for biographical information about the new candidates seeking council seats. Cynthia Sebastian-Welch is a former chief risk management officer for the tribe.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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