Conn. ex-tribal leader gets 18 months for theft

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - The former chairman of the tribe that owns Foxwoods Resort Casino was sentenced Tuesday to 18 months in prison for embezzling more than $100,000 in tribal funds.

U.S. District Court Judge Janet Bond Arterton said Michael Thomas, former chairman of the Mashantucket Pequots, committed a serious offense. She said he used tribal money for luxuries he couldn't afford and violated the trust his tribe placed in him.

But Arterton cited Thomas' good deeds in imposing a sentence below guidelines that called for about two years.

"It is by any definition theft of tribal money because it was the tribe paying for the tribal president's personal expenses," Arterton said. "So the contradiction between all he did to earn that trust and all he did to breach that trust is of course troubling."

Thomas said he told tribal officials four or five times that he would pay whatever he owed but officials told him he didn't owe anything.

"I do accept responsibility for my actions as well as my inactions," Thomas said.

Thomas was convicted in July of theft from the tribe to pay for limousine service trips for his mother's medical appointments along with satellite radio, cable TV and other personal expenses for himself.

Defense attorney Paul Thomas said most of the money was to pay for the limo trips for Thomas' mother, an expense he has defended as legitimate. He said his client was overwhelmed with his responsibilities as tribal leader, did not intend to hurt the tribe and planned to pay the money back.

"There is without doubt sympathy and understanding that when your mom is so ill and so ailing you want the best," Arterton said. "That does not mean that you can take the citizens' money and use it for the literal Cadillac care of your mom."

Earlier, Arterton asked a prosecutor if he distinguished between what Michael Thomas did for others and what he spent on himself. She brought up Robin Hood, saying, "he stole from the sheriff."

"Mr. Thomas was the sheriff," prosecutor Christopher Mattei responded. "He's not Robin Hood."

Mattei hotly disputed the defense's arguments that the case was about neglect, saying the jury found Thomas acted intentionally. He said Thomas was not looking out for the tribe and never reimbursed the tribe.

"When a public official uses public money for their personal benefit, that is corruption," Mattei said.

Prosecutors estimated the loss at more than $120,000, while the defense estimated it was about $102,000. A hearing will be held later to determine restitution.

Among his supporters, former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island sent a letter on behalf of Thomas praising his advocacy work on behalf of Native Americans.

Thomas is due to surrender on Jan. 14 to begin serving his sentence.

Thomas' brother, former tribe treasurer Steven Thomas, pleaded guilty to theft last month for inflating the hours he worked when he was assistant director of the tribe's natural resources department. His sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 3.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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