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Deval Patrick says gambling commission is distracted by McGee controversy

Says distractions affecting mission

The state gambling commission has become bogged down in “distractions’’ that have hobbled it in its main mission to license up to three gambling resorts and one slot parlor, Governor Deval Patrick said Thursday.

The governor, in speaking with reporters, seemed agitated by the weeklong controversy surrounding the commission’s hiring last week of a Patrick administration official, C. Stanley McGee, who was accused of child sexual assault at a Florida resort in 2007.

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Though he was never prosecuted, McGee’s hiring as the commission’s interim executive director touched off furious criticism from the alleged victim’s family, from child welfare advocates, GOP lawmakers, and state Treasurer Steve Grossman, who on Wednesday called on McGee to step down. McGee, an administration specialist on gambling issues, withdrew from the post Wednesday evening.

“I think we have had a number of distractions from the central work of the gaming commission,’’ Patrick said at a press conference outside his State House office. Under the state casino law Patrick signed last November, the five-member Massachusetts Gaming Commission is entrusted with shaping the casino industry, which could represents as much as $3 billion in potential capital investment, as well as thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars coming to state coffers.

Patrick denied he was singling out the commissioners or their chairman, Stephen Crosby, whom Patrick appointed to the panel. “The chairman needs to make the decision that he thinks are in the best interest of the gaming commission,’’ Patrick said. “I think he has consistently done that.’’

Crosby, in an interview, declined to respond directly to the governor’s comments about the panel’s recent troubles. But he offered a list of activities the commission has undertaken, in a tacit rebuttal of the notion that the commission is bogged down.

“There’s a lot going on,’’ said Crosby, speaking at length about the commission’s organizational work with its law firm, development of a timeline and action plan with its gambling consultants, two upcoming public educational forums, and the drafting of a plan to take over the duties of the state Racing Commission. The commission is also pursing an effort to prequalify potential casino license applicants, probably using an expert consultant to evaluate them, which would give the approval process a sense of momentum and save time later when developers are asked for formal proposals.

The commission is not planning to hire another acting executive director, though “probably we’ll try to get some senior administrative support who can help manage these projects,’’ said Crosby. “There are other people who have the same kind of leadership, management, organizational, and state government knowledge that Stan had, they just don’t have the gaming side of it.’’

McGee is expected to return to his job as assistant secretary for policy and planning in the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.

Patrick acknowledged Thursday that McGee had faced serious allegations in Florida, but said the accusation had been investigated and no charges were brought. He rebuffed calls from child welfare groups to suspend McGee so the allegations could be investigated.

“He and anyone else under those circumstances should be entitled to resume their life,’’ Patrick said.

Although the local Florida prosecutor determined there was not enough evidence to prosecute McGee, the Globe reported last week that a state child welfare investigator in Florida who had reviewed the case recommended prosecution, saying that the alleged victim, who was 15 at the time, gave a credible account. The family of the boy sued McGee and ultimately settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

Patrick aides insisted that neither they nor the governor had pushed Crosby to hire McGee.

Behind the scenes, the administration’s reaction to Grossman’s public call for McGee to resign was hostile.

Patrick’s chief of staff, William “Mo’’ Cowan, and deputy chief of staff, Sydney Asbury, were furious that Grossman had not given sufficient notice to them that he was speaking out publicly about McGee, according to officials with knowledge of the administration’s response. Cowan hung up on a top Grossman deputy who had called him to explain. Asbury e-mailed another member of the treasurer’s staff, expressing strong disapproval.

Grossman, in an interview, did not deny that the administration was upset with him for speaking out.

“I have every confidence that the outstanding relationship I have with the governor, which has been extraordinarily productive, will move forward unabated,’’ he said.

Mark Arsenault can be reached at marsenault@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bostonglobemark.

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