Ryan Zinke, former Secretary of the Department of Interior (DOI), might not face criminal charges for lying to investigators that work for the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). Yet, he deceived the department and a public report explaining his actions doubted a decision about a Connecticut tribal casino.
The OIG released it on Wednesday. Yet, it doesn't give Connecticut a green light to establish its third tribal casino.
Details About the Report
Federal agencies such as the Department of the Interior have an OIG that acts as their watchdog division. Last Wednesday's public report claims that Zinke and the chief of staff made false statements to OIG investigators intending to mislead them.
The investigation comprised plans by Connecticut's two tribal casinos; the Mohegan Tribe and the Mashantucket Pequot Indian Tribe. They submitted their off-reservation plans for a Connecticut casino whose ownership they would share according to the current gaming compacts' amendments. But, the DOI didn't act on the plans and it said it lacked jurisdiction on the issue since the tribes wanted to develop the gaming site on non-tribal lands.
The OIG started investigating the DOI's decision after a short while. It directed its findings to the U.S. Department of Justice after concluding the investigation. But Justice didn't act on them last year and the public can evaluate the findings now.
The Origin of the Tribal Casino Issue
Zinke started working as the Secretary of the Interior in March 2017, almost three years after the tribes and Connecticut started planning on the new casino. The official was accused of lying about the casino decision shortly after assuming office. But it isn't the only mistake that he is being investigated for in his term.
He booked a private chartered flight and sold the land. The report adds that Zinke held a meeting with MGM's lobbyists in his first six months of office. The gaming operator runs a casino in Springfield and it is close to the new tribal casino's proposed site.
Its construction neared completion at that time and it was scheduled to launch in august 2018. The DOI appeared to favor the tribe before the meetings. It sent a letter to each tribe concurring with another correspondence that the plans wouldn't alter the Tribe's gaming compact with Connecticut.
Even so, the DOI didn't make a judgment in September 2017 when it sent amendments to the tribes. Nick Juliano from Politico stated that the DOI's decision not to state its stand about the issue contravened advice that federal experts had given about Indian gaming policy. So, MGM's lobbyists got what they wanted.
Ryan Zinke's Allegations
The Secretary of the Interior and his chief of staff attended the OIG's interview in May and July 2018. Zinke informed investigators that he didn't meet with the MGM's lobbyists of an unnamed U.S. Senator about the tribes' submissions. He stated that he liaised with the department's attorneys about returning the proposals.
Surprisingly, the Counsel of the Interior stated they didn't discuss the issue with Zinke. The reports state that Zinke, the lobbyists, and Senator communicated through text messages and emails.
A political consultant claimed he went with Zinke on a skiing trip after his appointment and informed him that Lobbyist 1 wanted to discuss the Tribes' amendments with him. The consultant sent a text message to Lobbyist 1 in May 2017 adding that he often ate dinner with Zinke.