Everett’s land-buying scheme should draw official scrutiny
FACED WITH the distinct possibility of losing out on a casino, Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria has resorted to some creative measures to keep the plan alive. His latest gambit is a scheme to seize the land slated for the casino by eminent domain and then sell it to Steve Wynn, the wealthy Las Vegas developer. Of course, Wynn can afford to buy the land himself; originally he had planned to. It’s the sellers, FBT Realty, who’ve put the entire $1.6 billion project in jeopardy. State gambling regulators have insisted that FBT’s principals all sign a promise that there are no hidden partners who’ll benefit from the $35 million land sale — a pledge that one of the owners, Anthony Gattineri, refuses to make. DeMaria’s plan would technically make the City of Everett the seller to Wynn, not FBT; Everett could then sign the pledge required by the gaming commission.
That’s too cute by a half. DeMaria’s plan may satisfy the letter of the commission’s requirements, but it wouldn’t address the underlying reason regulators raised objections in the first place: fears that an associate of the parcel’s owners, convicted criminal Charles A. Lightbody, might end up receiving part of the profit from the opening of a casino on the site. Lightbody, who has gone to prison for assault with a dangerous weapon and pled guilty in a New York identity theft ring, was initially part of the land’s ownership group. Although he claims to have sold his stake, Lightbody was recorded during a visit to an imprisoned associate boasting that he retained a secret interest in the property. The City of Everett can take the land, but it’ll still have to pay FBT, money that would wind up with Lightbody if he does indeed still have a hidden stake.
It’s understandable why DeMaria, whose city has struggled to revitalize former industrial areas and expand its tax base, wants to clear away every obstacle to the casino deal. The agreement with Wynn would provide hefty annual payments to Everett once the casino opens, and put a contaminated piece of land by the Mystic River back into productive use. But because Lightbody is a friend and political donor to DeMaria, the mayor must go above and beyond to reassure regulators that he’s taking the commission’s concerns seriously. If Everett takes the land, it must ensure that Lightbody makes no profit; unless Gattineri can give Everett the assurances that he won’t give the commission, FBT should get no more compensation in an eminent domain taking than the $8 million the partnership paid for the land in 2009.
If the city proceeds with eminent domain, but without such a pledge from FBT, the decision of whether to bless the arrangement anyway will pose a test for the Gaming Commission. It should examine the entire string of transactions involving the Everett parcel. Whether the city or a private firm, the entity that formally turns over the deed to Wynn matters a lot less than whose bank accounts swell as a result of the transaction. The commission rightly demanded firm guarantees that Lightbody not receive any profit from Wynn; Everett officials shouldn’t make an end run around that requirement, and if they try, the commission shouldn’t let them.