Saying that if state agencies and commissions aren’t going to look out for the taxpayers of Massachusetts, then the taxpayers will certainly keep an eye on the casino industry for them – and long-time anti-casino advocate John Ribeiro has taken the lead in that vein this week in filing a taxpayer lawsuit regarding the Wynn MBTA land purchase in Everett.
“This should serve as notice to any casino operator in Massachusetts that if the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) or MBTA or any state agency isn’t going to do their job, then the taxpayers will,” he said.
The suit was filed in Suffolk Superior Court on Monday, July 6, for review by the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) with 30 taxpayers from across the state signing on in what is known as a taxpayer’s lawsuit against a state agency. In this case, the agency is the MBTA, which sold a piece of land to Wynn Everett for $6 million last year that serves as an entrance to the Everett casino, and is also a key spoiler in a City of Boston lawsuit claiming that Boston is a host community due to an access point on the co-owned Horizon Way.
Plaintiff Ann Kelleher, a Charlestown resident, remarked, “This deal was done behind closed doors and the only one who benefits from it is Steve Wynn. It is our responsibility to hold the MBTA and MassDOT accountable and that’s what this lawsuit is meant to do.”
As a matter of law, a group of at least 24 taxpayers – with no more than six taxpayers from any one county – across the state can sue a state agency they don’t believe is complying with the law. Such a suit requests that the SJC take a look at the situation and make a ruling.
“That’s what we’re doing here,” said Ribeiro. “The complaint shows the casino industry that the taxpayers are watching. It doesn’t matter where they are…The MBTA didn’t go through their own internal process to sell the land. They held closed-door meetings with Wynn, agreed upon a price and put it out to bid for 30 days. The whole time they planned to sell it to Wynn. Some have said that land was possibly worth as much as $30 million and was only sold for $6 million. At the MBTA, some of their operations staff didn’t want the parcel to be sold because it’s necessary for that facility in Everett.”
According to the lawsuit, e-mails retrieved through an information request showed operations staff pleading with the T not to sell the property. One e-mail included in the suit indicates an operations staffer saying the sale would create an “unsafe condition.”
Other e-mails included in the suit back up the contention, Ribeiro said, that the land was sold at a discount to Wynn.
Records cited in the suit said MassDOT understood the land to be worth $30 million, and that Wynn expected to pay “eight figures” for it. However, the suit said the MBTA eventually agreed to sell it for $6 million.
Thomas O. Bean, lead attorney for the plaintiffs said, “Public entities such as the MBTA are required to strictly comply with the state public bidding law. The MBTA failed to do so, harming Massachusetts taxpayers.”
Attorney Bean was successful last year in getting an initiative petition on the ballot to “Repeal the Casino Deal.”
That was known as Question 3, and it did not prevail statewide, leaving the state’s Expanded Gaming Law of 2011 in place.
Ribeiro has spearheaded dissent against the casino industry since Caesar’s Entertainment and Suffolk Downs first proposed a resort casino at Suffolk Downs. Forming the group ‘No Eastie Casino,’ Ribeiro began to unite with other anti-casino folks statewide and soon became a driving force leading the way against expanded gaming.
In an historic victory, the group in East Boston led the way to handily voting down the proposal for a casino at Suffolk Downs.
He also led the fight, with Bean and others, to get Question 3 on the ballot last November – taking the proposal all the way to the SJC and prevailing in the fight to get the matter on a statewide ballot.
Ribeiro noted that the suit comes on the eve of a major hearing in Suffolk Superior Court on July 9 concerning a motion by the MGC to dismiss the Boston lawsuit against the MGC and its awarding of a license to Wynn.
“That lawsuit by Boston has similar claims and this will enhance that,” he said.