November 20, 2013

Are The Bishop And Shinnecock FBI Probes Related?

The Independent broke the story that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating Congressman Tim Bishop, or at least was, earlier in the year.

The FBI also raided the Shinnecock reservation last May, reportedly after receiving information about its efforts to open a casino and the relationship of tribal members to Michael Malik, a controversial casino owner who has funneled a significant amount of money to the tribe. Malik is also a Bishop campaign contributor.

Christos Sinos, a Supervisory Special Agent in the New York City-based FBI Office of Public Affairs, said Monday, "We have no comment on the Bishop matter and whether it is related to the Shinnecock Indian Nation raids." 

Though there is no firm connection between the two FBI investigations, there are indications that the possibility exists they are related.

A Bishop spokesman did not return a request for comment when asked as much.

The FBI grilled Southampton Town Trustees in early spring about Bishop and the circumstances surrounding a fireworks display held near an active Piping Plover nest in May, 2012. Bishop had pulled strings to expedite the issuance of a license for the event. In return he asked the constituent staging the fireworks, Eric Semler, for $10,000, and eventually received $5000. Bishop donated the money to charity after the scandal broke.

Semler had business connections with Robert F.X. Sillerman, a huge Bishop campaign contributor, his former boss at Southampton College, and a longtime friend. It is believed Sillerman has had a hand in raising millions of dollars for Bishop's campaigns over the years.

According to published reports 15 to 20 agents combed the reservation. One target was the Gaming Authority office, which contained computers and documents relating to the tribe's effort to establish a casino with Malik, a Detroit-based casino developer.

In October, 2011 Newsday reported, "Detroit-based Gateway Casino Resorts has exclusive rights to develop and manage any Shinnecock Indian Nation casinos . . . Gateway is controlled by Detroiters Michael Malik, a controversial wheeler-dealer, and Marian Ilitch. Her husband owns the Detroit Tigers, and they own the Detroit Red Wings and Little Caesars pizza. She owns Detroit's Motor City Casino."

According to filings and published reports Malik and Gateway poured millions of dollars into the quest to get federal recognition for the Shinnecock.

Though no one is saying the raid was connected the Bishop investigation, Malik has donated money to Bishop's campaign in the past. The congressman was criticized for accepting Malik's donations in 2010 and in 2011, though when queried in 2011 a Bishop spokesman was quoted as saying Bishop opposed the idea of placing a casino locally.

In addition Bishop, a vocal supporter of the Shinnecock, wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Interior urging the government to grant federal recognition to the tribe, which would pave the way for a casino – or perhaps another use, on the site.

Bishops campaign literature states, "Congressman Bishop helped the Shinnecock Indian Tribe achieve federal recognition by the Department of Interior and has been instrumental in helping the tribe receive federal funding for housing, energy and tribal governance projects."

On another front, according the Miami New Times, Sillerman, "has made a significant investment in the Opium Group, which owns the dance clubs, Mansion, Set, Mokai, Cameo, and Opium at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino."

The Seminole tribe sent "a management team" to the Shinneock reservation after Hurricane Sandy.

Bishop has spent a fortune in legal fees trying to get the House Committee On Ethics to end its review of charges leveled against him – so far, to no avail.

Friday the Committee of Ethics said it has ended its review of two congressman accused of availing themselves of free trips to Taiwan.

The committee found that Peter Roskam, a Republican congressman from Illinois, was indeed guilty of availing himself of an "illegal gift" when he took an all-expenses paid trip in December 2011.

Similarly, Congressman Bill Owens was deemed to be guilty of the same offense, but he repaid the $22,000 cost of the trip before the inquiry and thus was not sanctioned.

The Office of Congressional Ethics, after an investigation, issued a report to the House Committee recommending it extend the investigations. However, in these two cases the House Committee opted to end both matters.

The news has local relevance because the OCE, an independent body that conducts its own investigations, also recommended the House Committee investigate Bishop, who represents the East End. In fact, the OCE issued its findings about Bishop and Roskam on the same day last July.

The OCE investigation concluded Bishop sought a campaign contribution in connection with an official act – helping secure the fireworks permit for Semler, who went to Sillerman first. It was Sillerman who initially contacted Bishop about doing Semler a favor. "There is substantial reason to believe . . . violations of federal law occurred," the OCE concluded.

Bishop has spent at least $80,000 on legal fees, much of it in an attempt to get the House Committee to drop its review of the OCE findings. Bishop hired the high profile law firm of Perkins Cole in an attempt to refute the findings of the OCE. Perkins Cole petitioned the House Committee On Ethics to close the matter but was unsuccessful -- unlike the Roskam matter, the Bishop case remains under review.

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