Ex-US interior secretary who blocked tribal casino accused of misconduct

Posted on: February 20, 2022, 01:59h.

Last update on: February 20, 2022, 02:00 a.m.

Former US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke rejects allegations raised by the inspector general of the federal agency he once supervised, saying he abused his cabinet-level position. Zinke led the agency between March 1, 2017 and January 2, 2019.

Secretary Ryan Zinke of the Connecticut Casino Interior
Ryan Zinke is seen outside a black SUV in Washington, DC in December 2018. The former Secretary of the Interior is accused of wrongdoing while serving in federal office. (Image: Getty)

A recent investigation by the office of U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) Inspector General Mark Greenblatt concluded that Zinke acted improperly while serving in President Donald Trump’s administration. Investigators also said Zinke, a former U.S. Representative who represented his home state of Montana and is now seeking re-election to Congress, lied to agency officials.

Zinke was Secretary of the Interior when the DOI dragged its feet on approving a tribal casino in Connecticut. The Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Tribes sought to jointly build a casino in East Windsor, Ct. But after state officials and the government at the time. Dannel Malloy (D) signed the roughly $300 million project, Interior declined to approve revised state gambling pacts to fully license the development.

The tribes and the state wanted the East Windsor Casino to prevent casino money from flowing north across the Connecticut-Massachusetts border to the nearby MGM Springfield, a $960 million integrated resort that opened its doors. doors in August 2018.

The DOI typically responds within 45 days of receiving a new or revised state gaming contract. But the Interior under Zinke refrained from ruling on the Mashantucket and Mohegan reviews.

Critics said MGM Resorts was successful in pressuring the Trump administration and the DOI not to meddle in the project.

The DOI in March 2019 – just two months after Zinke stepped down as Home Secretary – finally approved the pacts. But by then, the tribes had abandoned the project in favor of attaining iGaming and sports betting privileges with Governor Ned Lamont (D).

Foundation claims

The current Interior Department allegations come from a public park Zinke charity — the Great Northern Veterans Peace Park Foundation — helped build and open in 2007 in Zinke’s hometown of Billings, Montana. Zinke pledged to disassociate himself from the foundation when taking over the DOI, but inspector general officials believe he failed to live up to that pledge.

The Zinke Foundation received donated land to build the park. Next to the community green space was an abandoned mill. A property development company linked to Halliburton chairman David Lesar has acquired ownership of the mill and asked Whitefish Town Council to approve construction of a hotel, microbrewery, art gallery and offices.

Zinke reportedly took an active role in formulating stipulations that the city would demand from the commercial market in exchange for the zoning change. The company eventually agreed to build a parking lot serving both the park and the commercial development.

Zinke denies misconduct

Zinke’s campaign rejected the allegations made in the DOI inspector general’s report. Calling it a “political hit job”, Zinke staffers said the finding was based on “false information”.

The Department of Justice under Attorney General Merrick Garland chose not to pursue criminal charges.

Zinke hopes to secure a new U.S. House seat granted to Montana beginning with the 2020 U.S. Census. Zinke is one of four Republicans who have declared their candidacy for the November 8, 2022 election.

There has been no poll on the race to date.

Betty K. Park