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Tale of the Thomases

Published October 05. 2013 4:00AM

The fall of the Thomas brothers is indicative of the hubris that permeated Mashantucket Pequot tribal leadership during the first decade of the millennium. Foxwoods Resort Casino appeared ready to keep generating endless riches. Perhaps it is not shocking that in such an environment some tribal officials could rantionalize using tribal money for personal use or benefitting from a pretend job.

Then reality intervened in the form of a severe recession, increased competition, and excessive tribal debt.

No one is more emblematic of that rise and fall than Michael Thomas, who served as chairman from 2003-2009. Mr. Thomas managed to squander so much money (his salary was $860,000 in 2008) that by the time federal authorities arrived to place the handcuffs on him last January for stealing from the tribe, he had to turn to a public defender. He couldn't afford a lawyer.

This past July a federal jury found Mr. Thomas, 45, guilty of three counts involving theft from the tribe. He charged more than $100,000 in personal expenses on his tribal card without reimbursing the tribe, ignoring warnings it was illegal.

Sentencing is set for Oct. 22. Mr. Thomas is almost certainly headed for prison.

With a closer tie to current tribal leadership was the arrest of Mr. Thomas' younger brother, Steven Thomas. Mr. Thomas, 39, held a "no-show" job as assistant director of the tribe's Department of Natural Resources from 2005-2008. He received a hefty salary for no work. It became a federal criminal matter because his department received federal environmental grants.

It remains troubling that the Tribal Council did not demand Steven Thomas step aside as treasurer after his January indictment. Being as "thick as thieves" is not a reputation that serves the tribe well. On Thursday, Mr. Thomas pleaded guilty to stealing more than $177,000 through his bogus job. A day earlier, he had resigned as treasurer. As part of the plea deal, he seems likely to escape prison time.

The Mashantuckets are confronting a new reality. Six-figure tribal member stipends ended three years ago. The tribe has worked out a plan to restructure its massive debt. Work is underway to build outlet stores to bring more visitors to the casino.

However, there is no denying these convictions have sullied the tribe's image. The tribal council did not help by for so long keeping as its treasurer a tribal official under indictment for theft.

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