Peninsula Gaming execs cleared of campaign wrongdoing

An Iowa judge has dismissed charges of illegal campaign contributions against two executives of the company that is building Sumner County's casino.

Brent Stevens and Jonathan Swain of Dubuque, Iowa-based Peninsula Gaming were among four people accused of funneling $25,000 into former Iowa Gov. Chet Culver's re-election campaign in the name of somebody else, and failing to disclose the contribution.

Polk County Associate District Judge William C. Price dismissed the charges Friday at the request of prosecutors, who said there wasn't enough evidence to prove the executives acted willfully. Instead, evidence showed they acted on the advice of counsel, prosecutors said.

Peninsula's lawyer, Guy R. Cook, said the dismissal "vindicates the company and its officers and reinforces Peninsula Gaming's reputation as a responsible and ethical company."

Stevens said in a written statement that the company was pleased by the dismissal.

"Peninsula operates with the utmost integrity and during its nearly 12-year history has always adhered to the highest standards of regulatory compliance and ethical business practices," the statement said.

Stevens and Swain had been set for trial in June. Under Iowa law, the charges are serious misdemeanors carrying a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a $1,250 fine.

The charges tainted the company as it went through the application and selection process with the state of Kansas to build and manage a state-owned casino in Sumner County.

The state's casino review board in December picked Peninsula's proposal for Mulvane over one by Oklahoma-based Global Gaming for Wellington in spite of the charges. The Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission approved background checks of the executives.

Lawmakers used the charges to support a House resolution that would have ordered the Kansas attorney general to challenge the state's approval of the casino in court. The resolution was narrowly defeated two weeks ago.

Rep. Vince Wetta, D-Wellington, who had supported Global Gaming's proposal, said he was glad the charges against Peninsula were dismissed.

"It's time to move on, like I've said repeatedly," said Wetta, who voted against the House resolution. "We're working together for what's best for south-central Kansas, for Kansas, for Sumner County and everybody."

Peninsula Gaming plans a $260 million casino to be phased in over four years. Construction is under way at the Kansas Star's site near the Mulvane exit of the Kansas Turnpike.

The company plans to open in February 2012 inside a building that eventually would become an events/convention/equestrian center.

The interim casino would include 1,310 slots, 32 gaming tables, a 50-seat snack bar and several food and beverage kiosks, the company has said.

The permanent casino is scheduled to open in January 2013. It would include more slots and tables, a 10-table poker room, a buffet, steakhouse, food court, two bars and a 150-room hotel.

When completed in 2015, the Kansas Star would have 2,000 slots, 50 tables, a 300-room hotel, an RV park, a gift shop, and an expanded equestrian events/entertainment/convention center.

Peninsula also plans to contribute $1.5 million annually to an education fund for all school districts in Sumner County and Mulvane.

Several lawsuits have been filed by residents near the site challenging Mulvane's zoning and permitting procedures. Two have been dismissed.

One is pending. It alleges the project will diminish property values because various measures approved by the city allow some of the casino structures to exceed the sizes originally proposed and fail to provide adequate screening and landscaping.