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Prosecution looks to stop possible defense in tribal theft case

HARTFORD — As a trial approaches for the former Mashantucket Pequot chairman charged with stealing more than $100,000 in tribal funds, federal prosecutors are moving to block a potential defense strategy, arguing he should not be allowed to argue that he acted in good faith and intended to repay the money.

Michael Thomas, who was chairman from 2003 to 2009, has pleaded not guilty to charges that he stole from the tribe, which owns and operates the Foxwoods Resort Casino in southeastern Connecticut. His trial is to begin July 22.

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In a motion filed Thursday, acting US Attorney Deirdre Daly said prosecutors anticipate Thomas will contend that he intended to return the money at a later date. She said any such evidence is irrelevant.

‘‘Even if the defendant claims that he simply gave himself an interest-free subsidy from a federally funded tribal government, his conduct would constitute an intentional misapplication of the funds,’’ she said.

An attorney for Thomas did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Thomas is charged with one count of theft from an Indian tribal organization and two counts of theft concerning an Indian tribal government receiving federal funds. He was indicted in January along with his brother, tribal treasurer Steven Thomas, who has pleaded not guilty to charges that he stole more than $700,000 from 2005 to 2008 when he was assistant director of the tribe’s natural resources department. The brothers are being tried separately.

In the prosecution’s motion, Daly said Michael Thomas did provide reimbursement for personal expenses charged to a tribe-issued American Express credit card before the 2007-2009 period covered in the indictment. She did not elaborate on why prosecutors are anticipating the defendant will claim he was going to repay the money described in the indictment period, and a spokesman for the US attorney’s office said he could not comment.

The Mashantucket Pequots, a tribe of roughly 900 people whose Foxwoods casino opened in 1992, have been facing a period of new austerity as the casino struggles with heavy debt and increased competition in neighboring states.

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