The co-owner of the Everett property where Steve Wynn wants to build a casino has changed his mind and says he is willing to sign a pledge that he has no secret partners, people briefed on the issue said, potentially removing a major roadblock to the $1.6 billion project.
Anthony Gattineri, who officially owns 46.7 percent of the proposed casino site, has refused for months state regulators’ demand that he sign an ownership statement amid investigators’ persistent questions about whether one or more criminals have hidden interests in the 30-acre parcel.
Now, people briefed on the situation say Gattineri is expected to sign the pledge after all, as long as the state gambling commission approves a plan for him to pay off a debt of more than $1 million to Charles Lightbody, a felon and a former owner of the land. Lightbody claims he sold his interest two years ago, though state investigators are skeptical.
Wynn Resorts, the gambling commission, and the landowners all declined to comment on Gattineri’s change of heart. But a person directly involved in the casino project said Wynn has made it clear that he is prepared to pull out altogether if Gattineri does not sign, potentially costing Gattineri and his partners millions.
Critics of the Everett proposal said Gattineri’s pledge will not end the controversy about ownership of the land, a former industrial site along the Mystic River. They note that one of Gattineri’s partners, Dustin DeNunzio, has already admitted deliberately back-dating documents to make it appear that Lightbody sold his interest in the land before Wynn proposed a casino.
“The signing of the document at this late date, after months of refusing to do so and refusing to explain why, only raises more questions about who has benefited from this land deal,” said Dan Rizzo, mayor of Revere, where Mohegan Sun has a rival casino proposal. “This just plain stinks and should be investigated further.”
An aide to Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who has raised doubts about the Everett casino in part because of questions about who owns the land, said the continuing controversy is pushing the city closer to filing a lawsuit to give the city more say over casino proposals in Everett and Revere.
Questions about the ownership of Wynn’s proposed casino site have consumed enormous amounts of the gambling commission’s attention since state law forbids felons from profiting from a casino. A felon named Gary DeCicco, who has been convicted of insurance fraud, was a partner before Wynn settled on the site in late 2012 but said he gave up his interest years ago because he could not pay his share of the $8 million purchase price.
Likewise, Lightbody, who has a four-page rap sheet and has served prison time for assault, said he sold his interest in the land-holding company, called FBT Everett Realty, in 2012.
But gambling commission investigators suspected that Lightbody and perhaps DeCicco were still involved in 2013, and commissioners required Wynn Resorts to renegotiate the land deal. Last fall, Wynn dropped the price from $75 million to $35 million to make the deal less profitable for secret owners. Meanwhile, the gambling commission required the official owners to sign statements saying that only they would collect proceeds from the sale.
Gattineri’s partners, Paul Lohnes and DeNunzio, signed the pledge last Dec. 23. But Gattineri refused to sign because his criminal attorney Brad Bailey had advised against it on the grounds that there is an ongoing federal and state investigation into the ownership of the land. Gattineri also declined to testify under oath to gambling commission investigators.
Mayor Carlo DeMaria of Everett, one of the leading boosters of Wynn’s casino plan, had been pushing a backup plan that might have eliminated the need for Gattineri’s signature. Under DeMaria’s proposal, the city of Everett would take over the land from FBT Everett Realty by eminent domain and immediately resell it to Wynn.
But that plan was fraught with potential legal and logistical problems, including a state review process that could last months or longer. Under gambling commission rules, a successful applicant must control the land for the casino within 60 days after being awarded a license. The gambling commission is expected to decide whether Everett or Revere will get the Eastern Massachusetts casino by late August or early September.
Someone involved in the project said that Wynn wanted Gattineri to sign the pledge quickly, and he was not prepared to wait for the eminent domain plan to be approved.
“Wynn doesn’t want to do eminent domain,” the person involved in the project said. “Either [Gattineri] signs or not.”
Gattineri finally relented and said he would be willing to sign, the person involved in the project said, preserving the possibility that he would be paid more than $16 million if Wynn gets his casino.
It is unclear how much Gattineri owes Lightbody. Gattineri’s partner DeNunzio produced documents showing that Gattineri purchased Lightbody’s stake in the land for $1.7 million; with interest, the amount could top $2 million. But Gattineri, whose lawyers would not comment, told investigators he owed Lightbody only $1 million.
Lightbody, a major source of money FBT used to buy the casino site, might now be squeezed out of the deal altogether. Last year, when Lightbody’s role as a land owner was exposed, he told a friend in a taped prison conversation that he had found a side avenue to profit from the casino anyway: a secret ownership of a nearby strip club called King Arthur’s in Chelsea.
But Chelsea city officials, concerned about the possibility that criminals might be taking over the notorious club, have moved to take back the liquor license by June 16 and are also foreclosing on the property because of about $300,000 in unpaid taxes. Jamie Russo and DeNunzio, the Lightbody associates officially buying the club, have filed suit against the owners of King Arthur’s to prevent them from transferring the liquor license to anyone else.
However, a judge earlier this week rejected a request by Russo and DeNunzio to block Chelsea from revoking King Arthur’s liquor license, saying it is up to the city to decide “the needs of the public and the public safety.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story online contained an incorrect photo for Anthony Gattineri.