A group of entities tied to the Seminole Tribe’s signature-gathering efforts in Florida filed a motion Friday defending themselves in a case filed by the Las Vegas Sands Corp., with new allegations of wrongdoing by Sands itself and a request that Sands produce contracts relating to its own efforts.
The Sands Corp. withdrew its petition for an emergency injunction in the case on Dec. 11, one day after a Leon County (Fla.) court judge ruled against dismissing the case and ordered the Sands Corp. to produce relevant contracts and other documents. The case is still pending.
Lawyers for the Sands Corp. claimed they did not have ready access to those documents and withdrew their complaint, but the Seminole-related groups say the company is still under an order to respond by Dec. 30. Las Vegas Sands Corp. in December filed a lawsuit claiming that signature-gathering companies used by the Seminole Tribe were paying circulators to not work and that some were harassing other signature gatherers and votes.
Now Sands is itself being accused of wrongdoing in signature gathering, through “an illegal compensation scheme.” That allegation was denied, according to a WUSF report, by Tallahassee lawyer Jim McKee, who represents Florida Voters in Charge, the Sands Corp.’s political committee.
“The allegations are meritless, and are nothing more than an attempt to divert attention from their aggressive attempts to prevent Florida voters from having the opportunity to vote to end the Seminole Tribe’s monopoly over Florida casino gaming,” McKee said.
The Seminole groups have essentially flipped the case on its head, using the fact that the Sands Corp. created the playing field by filing the case in the first place. The groups are pressing for more information, which could ultimately slow down the petition process for the Sands Corp., which is trying to get a ballot initiative that would allow it to build three brick-and-mortar casinos in the state.
Multiple illegalities going on?
The Sands Corp. did provide some “heavily redacted” contracts, and in the motion filed Friday, the Seminole-related groups claim that even though it is illegal to pay per signature in Florida, that Las Vegas Sands Corp. is doing just that under the guise of an hourly wage. The Seminole group pointed to copies of redacted contracts provided by Las Vegas Sands that show a bonus structure based on the amount of signatures collected in a week, in addition to a note that appears to show a signature gatherer’s hours were “cut to match the number of petitions gathered.”
The lawsuit is not the first time during this campaign that signature gathering has come to the fore. In October, Seminole-related circulators were accused of harassing students on the Florida International University campus, and in November Politico reported that the tribe’s contractors were paying off signature gatherers. Last week, Sports Handle investigated the world of signature gathering, which in Florida allows for ex-cons to participate and does not require that petitions be signed in front of a petitioner.
The Seminole-related entities, who are the defendants in the case, further wrote that there are whistleblowers claiming that the Sands Corp. is involved “in a number of illegal activities … beyond just paying per signature.” Those accusations include using unregistered petition circulators, shredding documents to “inflate validity rates,” and filling out additional information on petitions after voters have signed.
The filing includes affidavits from two people who formerly worked with Grassfire LLC, a petition company that contracts with the Sands Corp. Both individuals made allegations of illegal activity within Grassfire and have broken off their connections with the company.
“10. In reality, it is Grassfire’s practice that circulators are paid by the signature,” wrote Tina Frazier, an ex-Grassfire LLC employee. “(Owner) Lee (Vasche) would accomplish this by tying the amount of signatures a circulator would submit per hour on the books and offer ‘bonuses’ if a circulator submitted 300 signatures.
“11. However if a circulator failed to get the requisite number of signatures, their hours worked would be cut to reflect payment per signature.”
The affidavits include photos of documents outlining bonus and pay structures; papers the former Grassfire workers say they were instructed to destroy; and bins labeled with what those individuals claim are missing information on petitions that they were to fill in after the petitions were signed.
The deadline for turning in the 891,589 valid signatures needed to get on the November 2022 ballot is quickly approaching. The cutoff is Feb. 1 for both the Sands Corp.’s Florida Voters in Charge political committee and Florida Education Champions, which separately is collecting signatures for a proposal that would allow for statewide mobile sports betting.
No betting is currently allowed in Florida after a federal court found that the Seminoles’ compact to expand gaming in the state is illegal, and a second federal court denied a motion to allow the tribe to continue offering wagering during the legal appeals process. The Seminoles launched their Hard Rock digital app on Nov. 1 and shut it down Dec. 4.
Florida Educations Champions is funded by sports betting giants DraftKings and FanDuel. Their proposal includes statewide mobile wagering by the Seminoles, as well as by commercial operators such as themselves. As of Nov. 30, FEC said it had collected more than 600,000 signatures.