The newly created state gambling commission badly underestimated public reaction to the fact that Carl Stanley McGee, the man tapped to be executive director of the new panel, had been arrested in 2007 in a sexual assault on a 15-year-old boy, internal e-mails show.
The e-mails, obtained by the conservative blog RedMassGroup and given to the Globe, show that the commission’s public relations consultant predicted in one e-mail that the allegations “will be no more than a paragraph deep into an otherwise extremely favorable story about Stan.”
When Gaming Commission chairman Stephen Crosby asked the Patrick administration if it had any concerns about the selection of McGee, then part of Patrick’s economic development team, the answer was no.
“I don’t have any immediate concerns with Stan’s candidacy,” Sydney Asbury, then Patrick’s deputy chief of staff in charge of appointments, wrote to Crosby on April 23. “Do you have any concerns about Stan being tied too closely to the governor?”
McGee, a Rhodes Scholar who was the Patrick administration’s authority on gambling, was seen by many as well qualified to lead the independent commission, which was created to license and regulate three casinos statewide. He was forced to resign as acting director of the commission on May 9 amid the uproar over the assault allegations. Florida prosecutors chose not to pursue the charges, but McGee paid a private settlement to the family of his alleged victim.
Brendan Ryan, Patrick’s communications director, said Thursday that the newly released e-mails — and acknowledgment of several phone conversations about McGee between administration members and the Gaming Commission — are consistent with his previous statements that the governor’s office had little to do with McGee’s appointment.
Asbury did not raise concerns about a possible public outcry over McGee’s appointment because “people were aware of it,” Ryan said. “Nobody was in the dark. We knew all along.
“It’s not our thing to raise Stan’s history,” he said, adding that the administration supported McGee, so “why would we raise Stan’s past?”
According to an April 23 e-mail from Crosby to Asbury, Gaming Commission officials also planned to inform legislative leaders ahead of time because Crosby did not want to violate what he called the “no surprise rule.”
“If it’s okay with everyone, we would like to be able to discuss Stan and others openly at our meeting tom’w,” commission chairman Crosby wrote.
McGee was offered the job the next week. But after the Globe detailed the episode in the steam room of a Florida resort and reported that neither the Gaming Commission nor the governor’s office had ever done an independent review of the case, McGee resigned.
Patrick invited McGee to return to his old job as assistant secretary for policy and planning in the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.
But McGee never came back to work. After taking several weeks of personal time, he decided to resign in June, hoping his departure would end the controversy.
The e-mails obtained by the RedMassGroup under the state public records law make clear that the Gaming Commission had considered the potential public relations backlash from choosing McGee, only to dismiss it.
In late April, public relations consultant Karen Schwartzman drafted a background summary of the allegations against McGee and concluded McGee’s history would probably not pose a problem for the fledging commission, as long as the public relations were “managed.”
“Steve [Crosby] asked me to give him my best thinking on whether — from a media standpont — the commission would take a public relations hit for hiring Stan,” Schwartzman wrote to the five gaming commisioners who needed to approve McGee’s appointment. “Basically, I said that based on all I know, this can be managed — and that the risk to the agency is small relative to the benefit of hiring such a perfectly suited person for this slot.”
Commissioner James McHugh asked Schwartzman whether McGee had made a payment to settle a lawsuit by the teenage boy’s family.
“Stan did indicate to me that there was indeed a settlement, though he didn’t say, and I didn’t ask, how much money was paid,” replied Schwartzman. “He did say it was not a big number, but that it made him sick to pay anything at all. He said that he was advised by counsel that it was in his interest to make a settlement so as to end the nightmare as expeditiously as possible.”
“Bottom line,” Schwartzman wrote to board members on the night before McGee was named, “I believe that the media will mention this history — but I also believe that I can appeal to their sense of fairness in making clear that Stan has already been through the ringer for a crime he didn’t commit and that it would be grossly unfair to put him through it again. I think it likely that the media will feel that they have to mention this — but I think it will be no more than a paragraph deep into an otherwise extremely favorable story about Stan and what it is that makes him a quality candidate for this job.”
Schwartzman could not be reached last night, but CommonWealth Magazine quoted her as saying that she did not have complete information at the time she predicted little controversy from the McGee appointment.
Initial stories did refer to McGee’s arrest deep in the story. But after the Globe quoted McGee’s former boss, Daniel O’Connell, as saying that the assault allegations were false, a police officer who investigated the case came forward. He said he “absolutely” believed the alleged victim and said he could not understand why prosecutors did not bring a case.
Prosecutors’ records in Florida also showed that the family appealed to the Florida governor’s office, which assigned an investigator to review the case. The investigator for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement recommended that the county prosecutor consider filing charges, but again the prosecutor declined.
Though the case ended without criminal charges, e-mails to the commission showed that the public was less forgiving.
“McGee? A PR nightmare,” wrote gambling opponent Kathleen Conley Norbut to Crosby two days after McGee was selected. “I’ll be blunt — the [Gaming Commission] did not get that one right. Skills and knowledge agreed, but I don’t think that this will be brushed aside.”