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Feds want accountant's crimes ruled off limits in Michael Thomas trial

By Brian Hallenbeck

Publication: The Day

Published July 16. 2013 4:00AM

Michael Thomas, the former Mashantucket Pequot tribal chairman accused of charging personal expenses to a tribe-issued credit card, shouldn't be allowed to bring up the criminal record of his former accountant in the event he blames the accountant for his alleged offense, federal prosecutors contend.

Nor, they argue, should Thomas be allowed to pursue what amounts to an "everybody-is-doing-it" defense.

The prosecutors, in a motion filed Sunday in U.S. District Court in New Haven, say they anticipate Thomas may try to shift responsibility to F. Robert LaSaracina, the former Norwich accountant who pleaded guilty in 2011 to federal fraud and tax charges. LaSaracina admitted fleecing investors in a Ponzi scheme he masterminded as well as beneficiaries of a Norwich estate he served as trustee. He is serving a 63-month prison term.

Thomas' trial on charges he stole more than $100,000 from the tribe that owns Foxwoods Resort Casino is scheduled for next week.

LaSaracina, who had been incarcerated at a federal penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pa., was being held as recently as last week at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons website. His location Monday was listed as "in transit."

"Mr. LaSaracina will not be a (prosecution) witness at trial, nor will any of his statements be offered at trial ...," the prosecutors say in their motion. The federal public defender representing Thomas did not return a message seeking comment on whether he intends to call LaSaracina as a witness.

The prosecutors say they believe Thomas may attempt to offer evidence that LaSaracina, who had signatory authority on one of Thomas' personal checking accounts, was responsible for reimbursing the tribe for personal expenses Thomas charged to an American Express card.

"To bolster this purported defense, the defendant may seek to offer or disclose through questioning Mr. LaSaracina's unrelated fraud convictions and the conduct underlying those convictions, even though those matters are completely unrelated to the allegations against Mr. Thomas," the motion says. "... Mr. Thomas should not be permitted to offer evidence of Mr. LaSaracina's unrelated federal convictions for wire fraud and willful failure to pay or collect taxes."

Thomas, the prosecutors say, may also try to offer evidence that other tribal members and employees of the tribe routinely used tribe-issued American Express cards for personal use. By demonstrating that such activity was an accepted practice, Thomas would try to show that he acted in good faith when he did the same, the prosecutors say.

"In essence," they say, "the defendant would seek to put other MPTN (Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation) employees on trial with him."

The prosecutors cite a ruling in an unrelated case in which a U.S. appellate court characterized a similar defense strategy as the "everybody-is-doing-it defense."

In a previous filing in the case, prosecutors moved to prevent Thomas from defending himself by arguing that he intended to reimburse the tribe for the personal expenses he charged. Those credit-card charges include private limousine service for a family member, the prosecutors allege in their latest motion.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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