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Anne Arundel County

Cordish tries to stop anti-slots signature drive

The developer of the state's largest slots parlor has filed suit against the Anne Arundel County Board of Supervisors of Elections, saying the board failed to properly check for fraud and other irregularities in the signatures submitted to gain a ballot referendum on slots at Arundel Mills mall.

In the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, PPE Casino Resorts Maryland LLC, the parent company of Baltimore-based Cordish Cos., contended that the elections board committed "flagrant failures" in its continuing task of certifying the signatures collected and asked for an injunction to stop the process.

The suit also contends that signature collectors have "misrepresented and concealed facts" about the referendum. It says Cordish has conducted its own investigation detailing the fraud, and that despite bringing it to the attention of elections board officials, they have "refused to address these glaring irregularities."

"The election board is currently in the process of validating a flawed petition riddled with fraudulent signatures as well as other blatant improprieties," according to the lawsuit. "The election board, nonetheless, has refused to address these glaring irregularities, instead taking the position that absent a court order requiring it to fulfill its statutory duties, the election board will limit its role to a strictly magisterial or administrative function."

"This is an extremely serious and important matter with tremendous implications for the state and its taxpayers," said Andrew C. White, the lead attorney for Cordish. "It goes to the heart of the integrity of the electoral process and whether or not elections boards should concern themselves with issues of fraud."

Heather Ford, coordinator of Citizens Against Slots at the Mall, called the lawsuit "an act of pure desperation."

After the approval in December of Cordish's plan to construct a 4,750-machine slots facility, the anti-slots coalition vowed to get a referendum on the ballot to stop the project. On Feb. 4, the coalition, composed of volunteers and workers paid by the Maryland Jockey Club, submitted 23,702 signatures to the board of elections - surpassing the 18,790 signatures required to place a referendum on the November ballot. The elections board had accepted 13,136 of the submitted signatures as of Tuesday afternoon, according to unofficial signature validation statistics on the election board's Web site.

"Cordish must have realized that the coalition will have substantially more than enough petition signatures to place the zoning ordinance on the November ballot," Ford said in a statement. "It is another misdirection play attempting to deprive the citizens of Anne Arundel County the right to vote on this important matter. The entire process has been fully vetted, and the lawsuit will not succeed."

According to the suit, Citizens Against Slots has received $377,876 in contributions, with 99.76 percent of the funding from the Maryland Jockey Club, which paid a company called FieldWorks $267,429 in "petition gathering services." The suit calls Citizens Against Slots "a sham entity that is nothing more than a stooge of the Maryland Jockey Club."

Magna Entertainment Corp., owner of Laurel Park, bid for the county's sole slots facility license but was rejected because it didn't pay the required state fees. Magna, which filed last year for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, has filed a protest of the state's decision.

The suit contends that the Jockey Club has a "substantial financial interest" in overturning Cordish's slots license.

Jockey Club President Tom Chuckas could not be reached for comment.

The suit also argues that collectors made "false, misleading and inflammatory statements" about the content and effect of the petition, stating that FieldWorks employees were instructed to tell potential signatories that the petition would "make sure that slot machines are kept out of Arundel Mills" to ensure it remains "family friendly."

Instead, the Cordish suit says, the referendum would block slots anywhere in the county because the zoning bill passed by the County Council is not site-specific.

Robert W. Lesnevich, a forensic document analyst who was hired by Cordish, said the petition contains "a pattern of insertions, alterations, entries and signatures not signed by the person it purports to be." Among his findings were nonmatching signatures and printed names and groups of signatures that appear to have been written by the same person.

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