Lightbody, two others acquitted in Everett casino land deal
A federal jury acquitted Charles A. Lightbody and two codefendants Friday of charges that they schemed to hide Lightbody’s financial interest in a lucrative deal to sell Everett land to Wynn Resorts for the development of a casino.
After three weeks of testimony, involving more than 15 witnesses, hours of tape recordings, and hundreds of pages of documents, the jury deliberated for roughly six hours before reaching its verdict.
Lightbody and codefendants Anthony Gattineri and Dustin DeNunzio and their family members celebrated after the decision was announced.
Michael J. Connolly, an attorney for Gattineri, said his client is “extremely relieved” and the jury’s swift verdict shows how groundless the charges were.
“His world was turned upside down for three years based on completely bogus charges, and the fact that they were bogus is reflected [in] the swiftness of the jury’s verdict,” he said. “He is extremely relieved to have this off his back and right now he is celebrating with his family.”
Prosecutors had alleged that the three men were part owners of FBT Everett Realty, which owned a 30-acre parcel in Everett that Wynn was targeting for a casino. A fourth owner, Paul Lohnes, was never charged.
Authorities alleged the three defendants created a scheme to make it appear as if Lightbody had sold his 12 percent interest in the property to Gattineri in exchange for a $1.7 million promissory note, before the group reached a deal with Wynn in December 2012 to sell the land for $75 million.
The group, according to prosecutors, had feared that Lightbody’s criminal past and association with Mafia figures would spoil the deal, under the belief that Wynn would no longer want the property because the state Gaming Commission would reject an application if someone like Lightbody was involved.
Authorities say they became aware of the alleged plot after Lightbody talked about it during recorded phone conversations with Darin Bufalino, a reputed Mafia soldier he was visiting in prison. Once suspicions of Lightbody’s involvement arose, Wynn forced FBT to renegotiate the purchase price to $35 million, the fair market value for the property for a development other than a casino. That deal was designed to eliminate concerns that someone like Lightbody would be benefiting from the state’s casino laws.
Gattineri, Lohnes, and DeNunzio were also required to sign affidavits saying who would benefit from the deal.
“In bringing this case, the government believed that it had the evidence necessary to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and while we are disappointed in the jury’s verdict, we respect the jury’s decision,” said US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz. “I commend the prosecution team and investigators who worked tirelessly to bring this case to trial.”
Lawyers for the three defendants argued, however, that Lightbody had indeed transferred his interest in the property months before the deal with Wynn was reached. They acknowledged that DeNunzio only recorded the transactions in July 2013, but said he was doing so based on legal advice that it was OK to backdate documents to properly reflect when a deal was reached.
They also argued that there was no specific law that would have prevented Lightbody from benefiting from the casino deal, negating the argument that the state Gaming Commission and Wynn were victims of fraud.
The lawyers argued that prosecutors sought to “dirty up” the defendants’ image to make it look like they were in a Hollywood-inspired conspiracy tied to organized crime.
“I hate to tell you, but Charlie Lightbody is not Marlon Brando. He didn’t strong-arm his way into FBT. He borrowed money from a bank,” his lawyer, Charles Rankin, told jurors during closing arguments Thursday.
The case had been closely watched by casino industry insiders who questioned what Wynn knew about Lightbody’s suspected involvement in FBT Everett Realty, and when, saying the case has tainted the integrity of the licensing process.
Wynn officials had maintained they did not know about Lightbody until they were asked about him by investigators in the summer of 2013, months after they reached a deal to buy the land.
Lawyers for DeNunzio had argued at trial, however, that he asked his attorney Paul Feldman to tell Wynn officials about Lightbody when they were negotiating the deal in December 2012. Feldman did not testify at trial, but said in a grand jury recording that was played for jurors that he had told attorney Daniel Gaquin – of Mintz Levin, who had been working for Wynn — that a fourth owner had past “problems” and was getting out of the deal. He did not recall if he mentioned the name Lightbody specifically.
Gaquin testified at trial that he could not recall a conversation about Lightbody, though he acknowledged that he did not ask FBT who all the owners were.
Michael Flood, an associate of DeNunzio, also told jurors that he heard DeNunzio tell Wynn executives during a first meeting in November 2012 that another owner with a “checkered” past was getting out of the deal. However, Wynn executive Kim Sinatra testified that she did not recall the conversation.
An attorney representing Mohegan Sun, which had competed against Wynn for the region’s sole casino license and has filed a lawsuit against the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, again questioned the integrity of the application process following Friday’s verdict.
“The testimony in this trial and the verdict delivered today raise immediate and important questions about the Gaming Commission’s process, and whether the [Gaming Commission’s] suitability review of Wynn was thorough and its findings accurate,” attorney Ken Leonetti said.
Wynn officials said they would not have commented regardless of the verdict. A spokeswoman for the Gaming Commission also would not comment.