CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A former state senator was accused Thursday of lying in order to get a COVID-19 relief loan for his casino and using the money to buy luxury cars for himself and his wife, a Republican leader in the New Hampshire House.
The allegations against former Sen. Andy Sanborn were announced by the attorney general’s office, which reviews the owners of charitable gaming businesses every five years. Sanborn owns the Concord Casino within The Draft Sports Bar and Grill in Concord and is seeking to open a much larger venue a few miles away, but the state lottery commission is now moving to permanently ban him from operating any such business.
In an email, Sanborn said he strongly disagrees with the commission’s findings and welcomes the chance to challenge them at a hearing.
“I have full confidence our actions were transparent and in complete accordance of the law,” he said.
In the meantime, federal authorities have been notified, and the state has begun a criminal investigation, said Attorney General John Formella.
“This case highlights the importance of law enforcement’s role in keeping illegal activity out of New Hampshire’s charitable gaming industry,” he said in a statement. “Our obligation to protect the public demands that we take action against any person who is found to have used their regulated casino to enrich themselves with fraudulently obtained taxpayer funds.”
Sanborn, of Bedford, served four terms in the state Senate before unsuccessfully running for Congress in 2018. His wife, Laurie Sanborn, is in her 7th term in the House, where she serves as speaker pro tempore and chair of the Ways and Means Committee. She did not respond to an email seeking comment Thursday, and her phone was not accepting new voicemail messages.
According to the investigation, Sanborn fraudulently obtained $844,000 in funding from the Small Business Administration between December 2021 and February 2022. Casinos and charitable gaming facilities weren’t eligible for such loans, but Sanborn omitted his business name, “Concord Casino,” from his application and listed his primary business activity as “miscellaneous services.”
In his email, Sanborn said he did his due diligence to ensure compliance with the application’s requirements.
“Like so many businesses and organizations we applied for federal relief to assist in meeting the operational challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
He’s accused of spending $181,000 on two Porsche race cars and $80,000 on a Ferrari for his wife. Sanborn also paid himself more than $183,000 for what he characterized as rent for his Concord properties, the attorney general said.
In June, the Concord Planning Board approved his proposal to build a 24,000-square-foot (2,230-square-meter) casino and restaurant, with the possibility of adding a hotel and event center. According to the Concord Monitor, the board had been considering the proposal for months when Sanborn forced a vote despite some members’ concerns about a lack of public vetting. A city spokesperson said officials are evaluating the impact of the attorney general’s report on that decision.
Rep. Matt Wilhelm, the House Democratic leader, said the attorney general’s report was deeply concerning and called on House Speaker Sherm Packard to remove Laurie Sanborn from a commission studying charitable gaming laws.
Packard announced Friday that Laurie Sanborn has resigned from the commission. He said her resignation was “appropriate” to avoid “distractions” from the commission’s work.
Wilhelm agreed that Sanborn’s resignation from the commission was appropriate, but he said she still serves as chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, which is slated to keep working this month on legislation related to charitable gaming.
“I have asked that Speaker Packard remove her from her leadership position on Ways and Means Committee to salvage public trust in our legislative process,” Wilhelm said.
This story has been updated to note Laurie Sanborn’s resignation from a commission that’s studying charitable gaming laws.