Jury to be chosen for trial of Michael Thomas

Jury selection in the trial of the former Mashantucket Pequot tribal chairman accused of stealing from the tribe that owns Foxwoods Resort Casino is scheduled to begin Tuesday in U.S. District Court in New Haven.

Michael Thomas, 44, whose tribal salary once ran to seven figures during his 2003-09 stint as chairman, was indicted in January on charges he stole more than $100,000 in money and property from the tribe from October 2007 to September 2009. He pleaded not guilty and has been free on a $100,000 bond.

Judge Janet Bond Arterton will preside at Thomas' trial, scheduled to begin July 22.

In court filings, government prosecutors have proposed asking potential jurors whether they know Thomas, any members of his family or any of those named on a list of 16 people who may be called as witnesses or whose names may be heard during the trial.

The list includes Rodney Butler, the current tribal chairman; Donna Capoverde, the tribe's controller; Jeffrey Wosencroft, Thomas' chief of staff during Thomas' tenure as chairman; and F. Robert LaSaracina, a former Norwich accountant who once handled Thomas' personal finances.

LaSaracina, who pleaded guilty in 2011 to federal fraud and tax charges, is serving a prison term of more than five years.

Potential jurors could also be asked whether they or any of their relatives or close friends are accountants and whether they use an accountant in connection with their personal finances.

A grand jury handed down three-count indictments of Thomas and his brother, Steven Thomas, following a nearly two-year FBI investigation of the tribe's handling of federal funds.

Steven Thomas, 38, a tribal councilor currently serving as the tribe's treasurer, was charged with crimes that allegedly occurred when he was a tribal-government employee, before his election to the council. He, too, pleaded not guilty, and is seeking dismissal of the charges against him. His trial is scheduled for November.

The tribe's current leadership has questioned the government's prosecution of Steven Thomas but has been silent in regard to Michael Thomas, who became embroiled in controversy in August 2009 when it came to light that the tribe was about to default on its long-term debt.

Michael Thomas pledged to put funding for tribal government and distributions of Foxwoods revenue to tribal members ahead of the tribe's obligations to lenders, a stance that prompted his fellow councilors to remove him as chairman.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Christopher Mattei and Douglas Morabito are prosecuting the case against Michael Thomas.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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