Attorney general charges two men with campaign finance violations

By Chet Brokaw
Pierre, South Dakota (AP) 10-07

Two men have been charged with failing to report the transfer of money from a tribal casino to a South Dakota ballot campaign that sought to repeal video gambling, state Attorney General Larry Long said september 28th.

Christopher Moen, a disbarred former lawyer from Miller, and Travis Carrico, who was manager of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Tribe’s casino in North Dakota, were each charged with three counts of failing to file campaign finance reports as required under state law, Long said.

Each misdemeanor count carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine, so each man could get as much as 90 days in jail and a $1,500 fine if convicted of failing to file campaign finance reports due July 1, 2006, Oct. 31, 2006, and Feb. 1, 2007, he said.

An organization named Forward South Dakota put a measure on the 2006 ballot seeking to repeal the state’s video lottery, which is offered in establishments across the state and provides more than $110 million in revenue to state government each year. Voters rejected the repeal proposal by a margin of 67 percent to 33 percent.

Some tribal casinos would likely attract more players if video gambling, which is available in towns throughout the state, were stopped.

Forward South Dakota, which ran the unsuccessful campaign to scrap video gambling, was not charged because it filed all its campaign finance reports, Long said.

But 99 percent of the money Forward South Dakota received was donated by a group called the South Dakota Association, which never filed any reports, the attorney general said. The association received all its money from the Dakota Magic Casino in Hankinson, N.D., he said.

Mike Selvage, chairman of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, said September 28th he took office in January and had not been told about such a campaign donation. He said he wanted to find out more about what happened.

“It does interest us quite a bit if there were tribal funds used with figures like that being donated to a lobbying effort or to a specific political campaign,” Selvage told The Associated Press.

The Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate’s headquarters are in northeastern South Dakota, and the tribe also runs a casino near Watertown.

The attorney general said Carrico and Moen cooperated to transfer $900,000 from the Sisseton-Wahpeton Tribe’s casino just across the South Dakota-North Dakota border to the South Dakota Association trust. That trust then transferred nearly $500,000 to the Forward South Dakota committee that ran the campaign against video lottery, he said.

Long said officials are still investigating to see what Moen did with the other $400,000 received from the tribal casino. “We’re still sorting all that out.”’

The attorney general and Secretary of State Chris Nelson said they are seeking to enforce campaign finance reporting laws because voters need to know the source of money donated to political campaigns, particularly those for ballot issues.

Long said the organization formed by Moen and Carrico, named the South Dakota Association, did not give voters an accurate idea of the motives of the donor of the money.

“It is ultimately important to know who is giving the money because the true motivation becomes much more apparent once you know the source of the money,” Long said.

Long said state compacts with some tribes prohibit tribes from using casino revenue to make political donations. But the compact with the Sisseton-Wahpeton Tribe specifically bars the use of money from South Dakota casinos for political campaigns, and the money sent to the video lottery campaign came from the tribe’s North Dakota casino, he said.

The attorney general also said Moen was charged with a separate offense of grand theft for taking about $30,000 from a trust account that held money owned by one of Moen’s clients. The South Dakota Supreme Court disbarred Moen for the theft last year, and Moen is now being charged with a crime for taking the money.

The theft charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.