3 JPs' casino dealings cleared

Tuesday 26th November 2019

The Arkansas Ethics Commission has dismissed casino-related ethics complaints filed against two Pope County Quorum Court members and authorized the withdrawal of a complaint against a third member of the Quorum Court.

Jacksonville attorney William J. Ogles filed the complaints against the three justices of the peace after the Quorum Court on Aug. 13 endorsed Cherokee Nation Businesses for a casino license in Pope County. The Quorum Court chose the Cherokees over four other casino operators.

The Cherokees and Choctaw Nation, both of Oklahoma, have each submitted applications for a casino license in Pope County under the Arkansas Racing Commission's second window for applications that closed last week. The Choctaw Nation's application doesn't have the endorsement of local elected officials in Pope County.

Justices of the Peace Ernie Enchelmayer, Caleb Moore and Doug Skelton said in a joint news release that they're glad to get the ethics complaints behind them. Ogles could not be reached for comment by telephone on Monday afternoon.

"Now that we have been cleared, it's time to get back to the business of serving Pope County and our constituents," Enchelmayer said.

[RELATED: See complete Democrat-Gazette coverage of casinos in Arkansas at arkansasonline.com/casinos]

The Ethics Commission voted 4-0 to dismiss the complaint against Enchelmayer, commission Director Graham Sloan said in a letter to him.

Ogles alleged that Enchelmayer used his position to secure a $10,000 payment to the River Valley Arts Center -- an entity whose board includes his wife, Valerie Enchelmayer -- under the county's Economic Development Agreement with Cherokee Nation Businesses.

Sloan said the evidence showed that, while Ernie Enchelmayer voted for the resolution supporting the development plan, his wife is an unpaid volunteer at the arts center and the Enchelmayers "do not appear to have a substantial financial relationship with the River Valley Arts Center."

Enchelmayer said the 4-0 vote to dismiss the complaint "confirms what we already knew: that our character and our integrity are intact.

"I'm grateful for the thorough investigation that was conducted and that my name and my wife's name have been cleared," he said in a news release.

In another complaint, Ogles alleged that Caleb Moore, who works as a real estate agent in his father's firm, Moore & Co. Realtors in Russellville, used his elected position to provide the firm with a benefit in the form of a land sale involving the planned location of the Cherokees' casino.

In a news release in August, Cherokee Nation Businesses said the casino would be located on 130 acres just north of Interstate 40 along Hob Nob Road outside Russellville, between the Weir Road exit and Alaskan Trail. Ogles provided no documentation that Moore or his father's firm were involved in the land deal.

(The Cherokee Nation Businesses' amended license application also includes a site inside the city limits of Dover, which start about 3 miles north of Interstate 40.)

The Ethics Commission voted 4-0 Friday to dismiss the complaint against Moore, Sloan said in a letter to him.

Evidence showed that William Wetzel, an agent for Moore & Co. Realtors, represents four of the five casino operators that initially applied to the Racing Commission for a license for Pope County, Sloan said.

"While none of the operators has actually bought any land, it is likely that Mr. Wetzel will earn a commission from a sale in the future," Sloan wrote in his letter to Moore.

"However, Mr. Tony Moore, the sole owner of Moore & Company Realtors, executed a contract with Mr. Wetzel on November 28, 2018, to have all money over Mr. Wetzel's normal commission go to four (4) different charities," according to Sloan.

"Mr. Moore, in a sworn statement, stated that he was vehemently against having a casino located in Pope County and adamantly in favor of a ballot initiative to allow the voters of Pope County to approve which casino operator got a resolution of support from the county. Mr. Moore's assertions were backed up by filings with the Ethics Commission reflecting that he was an officer in a ballot question committee called Citizens for Better Pope County. Mr. Moore also made financial contributions to that group," Sloan said.

"There was no evidence available indicating that you would make any money from Mr. Wetzel's commission," Sloan said in his letter to Caleb Moore. "You and Mr. Wetzel each said in sworn statements that you were not related to each other."

Caleb Moore listed Moore & Co. Realtors as a source of income -- but not a business or holding -- on his statement of financial interest for 2017 and 2018 as a Pope County Quorum Court member, Sloan said.

"This is consistent with Tony Moore's statement that he is the sole owner of the company," Sloan said in his letter to Caleb Moore. "You and Mr. Moore each characterized your role as an independent contractor with the company. Even if the commission interpreted the the relationship between the respondent and the company to be a 'trustee, partner or employee,' that relationship is readily apparent on your [statement of financial interest] because you listed the company as a source of income."

Caleb Moore said in the joint news release that "this is the absolute vindication we sought.

"We knew these allegations against us, and by extension, our families and businesses, were baseless, but the best way to demonstrate our innocence was to let this process play out with the Ethics Commission."

Ogles contended in another complaint that Skelton had committed "misconduct" because his law firm, Skelton Law Firm, previously provided legal representation to Gulfside Casino Partnership of Mississippi. Ogles' complaint offered no proof.

After the Racing Commission in June rejected five applicants for the casino license in Pope County because none contained endorsements by current local officials, Gulfside filed a lawsuit on Aug. 15 challenging the rejection of its application, which included letters of endorsement from local officials issued right before those officials left office in December. The Racing Commission's rules and laws enacted this year say that endorsements must come from officials in office at the time of the application.

Sloan said Monday that Ogles asked to withdraw the complaint, and the Ethics Commission voted 4-0 Friday to allow the withdrawal.

Skelton said in the news release that "I think most people in our community knew the allegations of ethics violations were politically motivated.

"I want the people of Pope County to know that the Pope County Quorum Court is where the words 'honesty,' 'integrity,' and 'duty' are given meaning by all members," he said.

Metro on 11/26/2019

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