Defense rests in Thomas case without calling any witnesses

New Haven — Michael Thomas' federal public defender rested his case without calling a witness Tuesday in the federal trial of the former Mashantucket Pequot tribal chairman accused of stealing about $100,000 from the tribe through the alleged misuse of a tribe-issued credit card.

Attorneys will deliver their closing arguments today before the 12-person jury begins deliberating.

Thomas, 44, who led the tribe that owns Foxwoods Resort Casino from 2003 to 2009, told U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton that he will not take the witness stand to defend himself.

Government prosecutors concluded their case against Thomas early Tuesday afternoon, focusing attention on Paul Thomas, the federal public defender who had indicated he didn't plan to call witnesses.

"The defense rests," said Paul Thomas, who is not related to his client.

Two days of testimony in the trial that began Monday shed light on the government's contention that Thomas charged personal expenses to an American Express card the tribe had issued him in his capacity as a tribal councilor and that Thomas knew the tribe prohibited such practice. The lion's share of the allegedly improper charges reflected payments Thomas made to an East Lyme limousine service that ferried his ailing mother Ruth between her Mashantucket home and a dialysis center in New London. Ruth Thomas died in 2010.

Robert Bornstein, an FBI special agent who headed an investigation of the Mashantucket Pequots' finances, testified that between October 2007 and September 2009, the limousine charges on Thomas' tribe-issued credit card totaled nearly $90,000, including $28,000 in tips for the limousine drivers.

Bornstein, questioned by Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Mattei, said that over the same period, Thomas charged to the same card a little more than $10,000 in computer equipment, Internet and cellphone service, Direct TV and Sirius XM satellite radio service, which Bornstein said Thomas had installed in his Cadillac Escalade.

Bornstein also testified that he and another FBI agent interviewed Thomas at his residence on the Mashantucket reservation on two occasions in April 2012. The first time, Bornstein said, they talked while sitting at a picnic table on the deck.

"He admitted to me that he utilized the card for personal expenses," Bornstein said. "He acknowledged he arranged transportation for Mrs. Thomas."

"Did he understand that personal expenses were prohibited?" Mattei asked.

"Yes," Bornstein said. "He knew … pursuant to a tribal resolution that had the power of law."

Testimony Monday showed that Thomas himself had signed a 2005 tribal resolution that limited tribal councilors' use of tribe-issued American Express.

On cross-examination, Paul Thomas elicited testimony in which Bornstein conceded he had no way of knowing whether the electronic equipment and services Michael Thomas purchased with the American Express card were for business purposes.

When the FBI agents returned to interview Thomas 10 days after their first encounter, they asked about two Apple computers he had purchased, Bornstein said. Thomas told the agents the computers were in a barn on his property and that he had been in possession of them since their purchase.

Questioned further by Paul Thomas, Bornstein said he had no way of knowing whether the tribe sought to recover the computers once Michael Thomas was no longer a tribal councilor.

Bornstein also could not say whether the tribe's health services department was in a position to provide medical transportation for Thomas' mother, a service the department often provided for tribal members, according to previous testimony.

"He didn't tell you he believed those charges were improper, did he?" Paul Thomas asked, referring to the limousine charges for medical treatments.

"No," the FBI agent replied.

During Tuesday morning's trial session, Paul Thomas objected to the prosecution's showing photographs of Michael Thomas' residence. The public defender argued the photographs were irrelevant and could prejudice the jury.

"Mr. Thomas lives in a mansion," Paul Thomas said.

With the jury excused, Judge Arterton conferred privately with the attorneys and said she was sustaining the objection "for the time being."

Mattei, the prosecutor, said he intended to show Thomas' Ann Wampey Drive home because the government believes Thomas received Internet and other services there that he charged to the tribe-issued American Express card.

"Mr. Thomas has a big house — we can't help that," Mattei said.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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