Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Sen. Ensign's Father Could Lose Casino Deal

When John Ensign called his parents and asked them to pay off his mistress and her family, he should have known there could be a problem. His parents were involved with casinos and gambling in Nevada and using any money from these concerns is strictly against gaming commission laws.

Now news is out that a new deal may be in trouble due to the pay off from Sen. Ensign's Father.

According to a story in the Kansas City Star:

The Ensign affair has triggered complaints that the senator and his parents, Michael and Sharon Ensign, may have violated federal campaign law with the payments — made more than a year before the senator's affair became public knowledge.

"Right now, we're aware there's an investigation going," said Ed Van Petten, executive director of the Kansas Lottery. "If it is found that there was wrongdoing, that would have an effect on things" regarding the Sumner County casino proposal.

For now, Van Petten said, lottery officials are waiting to see the outcome of any federal investigations.

He said the lottery will also conduct its own investigation, regardless of whether criminal wrongdoing is found, to determine whether there are ethical or moral issues that could affect Michael Ensign's involvement in the casino.

If he doesn't pass that ethics test, the lottery could take action to make sure he is not directly involved in casino management or request that he withdraw from the project entirely, Van Petten said.

Michael Ensign was chairman and chief executive of the Mandalay Resort Group, which owned and operated Las Vegas' landmark Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino.

According to a Washington Post report, he made about $130 million when he engineered Mandalay's sale to international casino giant MGM Mirage in 2005.

Michael Ensign rarely speaks to the media and could not be reached for this report.

Nancy Seitz, who has served as spokesperson for the Prairie Sky project, did not return phone calls seeking comment.


On July 9, the senator confirmed that payments had been made by his parents to his ex-mistress and her family in April 2008, about the time they left the senator's employment.

Sen. Ensign's lawyer issued a statement saying that "after the senator told his parents about the affair, his parents decided to make the gifts out of concern for the well-being of long-time family friends during a difficult time."

"The gifts are consistent with a pattern of generosity by the Ensign family to the Hamptons and others," the statement said.

The statement also explained that the $96,000 went to the Hampton family as a bundle of $12,000 gifts from each of the Ensign parents to Cynthia and Doug Hampton and two of their children.

At the time, $12,000 was the maximum amount that could be given as a gift without triggering tax liabilities.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit and nonpartisan watchdog group, filed a series of complaints with the Federal Election Commission, the Justice Department and the Senate Ethics Committee.

"It appears that Sen. Ensign's parents, Michael and Sharon Ensign, may have each given checks in the amount of $12,000 to Cindy Hampton as a severance payment for the loss of her positions as treasurer of both Ensign for Senate and the Battle Born Political Action Committee," the group's complaint said. "Those two checks may constitute illegal excessive in-kind contributions by the Ensigns to both Ensign for Senate and the Battle Born PAC."

The complaint by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington contends that under federal campaign contribution limits, Michael and Sharon Ensign would have been allowed to give only a combined $9,600 to their son's campaign aide.

They also alleged that the senator broke the law by failing to disclose the payments on his campaign finance forms.

The Justice Department referred the watchdog group to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the group forwarded its complaint to the FBI on July 20.

Legislators concerned

Kansas lawmakers on both sides of the gambling issue said they are concerned about Michael Ensign's involvement in the payments.

Whether the payments were legal or not, "I'm not sure that would pass the ethics test," said state Rep. Vince Wetta, D-Wellington.

"The question is, are these the kind of people we want to do business with," he said.

Wetta won office on a pro-gambling platform and was a crucial vote for the 2007 bill that authorized casino-style gambling.

He also was instrumental in getting Sumner County included in the state law as a potential casino site.

Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, a strong opponent of gambling, said the Ensign issue is symptomatic of the kind of problems that come along with the industry.

"This is the thing we were talking about" in legislative debate, Landwehr said. "This just shows the state has no business in the gambling business, where there is so much corruption. Our state just does not have the capacity to monitor all this stuff."

Just as I said about the Palin matter, the fact he had an affair is his and his wife's concern... that doesn't really matter to me. But the fact that he might have broken the law, that his parents helped him break the law, that these people just think they can use money to get out of anything they want and go on their merry way is what bothers me.

There was a complaint filed with CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington), who then turned it over to the FBI for completion. Now, we wait. However the casinos in Kansas have a deadline of August 28th to make a decision and they can't wait forever.

So the fallout continues from the Ensign mess. He is a hypocrite, and may be a criminal. Stay tuned.. it looks like a bumpy ride...lol

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