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New Haven — A day after resigning from the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council, Steven Thomas pleaded guilty Thursday in U.S. District Court to a charge of stealing more than $177,000 from the tribe — his one-year salary while holding a position in tribal government.
Judge Janet Bond Arterton accepted Thomas' plea, enabling him to avoid a trial that had been scheduled to start next month. She set sentencing for Jan. 3.
In exchange for the guilty plea, the prosecution dismissed two other counts of theft and agreed not to oppose Thomas' likely bid to avoid prison time. The judge is not bound by sentencing guidelines that call for a prison term of 12 to 18 months.
The prosecutor in the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Mattei, agreed not to oppose a shorter sentence, even one calling for probation rather than incarceration.
Thomas, 39, who since 2012 had been the tribe's treasurer, must make restitution to the tribe of the $177,600 in pay he accepted while serving as assistant director of the tribe's Department of Natural Resources Protection from Jan. 6, 2007, through Jan. 5, 2008. He also must pay a fine.
Previously, Thomas had pleaded not guilty to the three original counts, which alleged a total theft from the tribe of more than $700,000.
Facing Arterton, Thomas admitted he "intentionally" signed time cards on which he "overstated" the hours he worked.
Mattei told the judge Thomas falsified his time cards on a weekly basis in 2007, a period during which he was supposed to work 40 hours a week.
"He rarely reported to work, except on Fridays," Mattei said.
And then, the prosecutor added, it was only to sign his card and those of others.
Thomas' attorney, Richard Reeve, disputed Mattei's account, saying Thomas did do "some work."
Asked whether the guilty plea had any "collateral consequences" for Thomas, Reeve told Arterton that his client's impending status as a convicted felon forced him to resign from the tribal council. Otherwise, under the tribe's constitution, Reeve said, Thomas would have been removed.
The council has named Councilor Marjorie Colebut-Jackson to serve as treasurer until a special election is held Oct. 24 to fill Thomas' seat.
Thomas had more than two years remaining in his second three-year term on the council. He and his brother Michael, a former tribal chairman, were indicted on identical theft charges in January.
In July, a jury found Michael Thomas, 45, guilty of embezzling about $100,000 from the tribe by misusing a tribe-issued credit card from October 2007 through September 2009, while he was chairman. He has yet to be sentenced.