Blakeman claims ‘collusive’ text messages, casino wars continue

Blakeman claims ‘collusive’ text messages, casino wars continue
Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman speaks at a rally outside Nassau Coliseum Thursday. (Photo by Taylor Herzlich)

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman produced text messages Thursday that he claims are evidence of Hofstra University’s collusion with a competitor of Las Vegas Sands.

Blakeman said Hofstra administration misled and lied to the public when Hofstra denied any kind of collusion with Seminole Hard Rock Entertainment Inc.

“The nickname for Hofstra is the pride. There’s nothing to be proud about today in the administration of Hofstra University,” said Blakeman. “In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s shameful.”

This is not Blakeman’s first accusation of collusion against Hofstra administration, specifically targeting Susan Poser, president of the university.

Hofstra continues to deny any form of collusion with competitors of Las Vegas Sands.

“The text messages shared by County Executive Blakeman reflect informal reactions to press articles with Hofstra University’s consultant and confirm the lack of merit to the Legislature’s ‘investigation,’” said a Hofstra University spokeswoman in a statement.

Hard Rock, together with New York Mets owner Steve Cohen, has crafted a proposal to build a casino on the Citi Field parking lot.

This proposal is competing for the same downstate casino gaming license as Las Vegas Sands, which has proposed to build a luxury resort-casino at the Nassau Hub, near the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

Howard Kopel, the presiding officer of the Nassau County Legislature, initially subpoenaed Poser on Jan. 16. This move came soon after an article in Newsday revealed an email hinting at communication between Hard Rock and Hofstra’s administration.

The email was sent by Michael McKeon, a registered lobbyist for Hard Rock, to Michael Sullivan, the chief of staff at Cohen’s asset management firm Point 72, and Sean Caffery, senior vice president of business and casino development at Hard Rock.

In the email, McKeon forwarded a news article that divulged that Las Vegas Sands intended to use its previous lease for the Nassau Hub to move forward with the environmental review process in the Town of Hempstead.

“I am checking with Hofstra to see if they will oppose the move,” the email from McKeon said.

There is no proof whether McKeon did or did not follow through on connecting with the Hofstra administration. Efforts to reach both Hard Rock and Cohen’s firm for comment were unavailing.

After the initial accusation of collusion, Poser denied having contact with any representatives of other bidders in the downstate casino gaming license.

The casino wars first started back in May, when Nassau County legislators approved the Las Vegas Sands lease in a 17-1 decision.

Hofstra then sued the Nassau County Planning Commission, alleging that the committee violated the state’s open meetings law by failing to give the public advance notice about a public hearing on the Sands proposal in March.

Ryan Stanton, the executive director of AFL-CIO, attacked Poser’s lawsuit Thursday as a “scorched earth” approach, saying she had no regard for the 450 people who are employed in full-time equivalent jobs throughout the year at Nassau Coliseum.

Hofstra’s administration defended the lawsuit, saying that Nassau County should have  abided by the open meetings law.

“Hofstra University continues to believe that the public has a right to participate in decision-making about redevelopment plans for the Nassau Hub,” said a Hofstra spokeswoman in a statement. “If Nassau County wished to embrace those principles, Nassau County would simply restart the process before the Planning Commission and the Legislature, as ordered by the Court.”

Hofstra’s first victory came in November, when Sarika Kapoor, a state supreme court justice, ordered Nassau to redo the process of lease transferal and conduct an environmental review before considering a new lease.

Most recently, Kapoor ruled on Feb. 23 that Las Vegas Sands lacks a valid lease to operate the Nassau Coliseum and the land around it.

But the Nassau Legislature is still backing the casino.

“We are committed in Nassau County to seeing this through and making sure that the men and women behind us, and the thousands more, get the needed jobs that this project will provide,” said Blakeman at a press conference and rally Thursday.

He said the county had to enter into an emergency use and occupancy agreement to keep scheduled games running at the coliseum since the judge’s decision.

At the press conference, Nassau County Legislator John Ferretti gestured toward three large poster boards with screenshots of text messages uncovered through the subpoenas against Poser.

“When there’s smoke, there’s fire,” said Feretti.

The legislator claimed messages sent between Poser and Robert McBride, a Long Island business consultant that Nassau legislators allege Poser hired to facilitate communication between her, Hard Rock and Cohen.

Feretti said the first group of messages show McBride sending a link to a New York Post article with regard to Cohen hiring attorneys on his behalf and Poser responding, “You made my day. How can we help him and vice versa??”

Feretti said the second group of messages show Poser texting McBride, “Someone needs to tell Steve Cohn that it is actually in his interest to agree with them. He can appear gallant and help himself at the same time.”

The reply, which Feretti said comes from McBride, reads, “Done!!!”

Blakeman said these messages suggest Hofstra University may be “in violation of the rules concerning applications to get a gaming license in New York State,” referencing a rule that prohibits applicants for a downstate casino gaming license from colluding in an attempt to restrict competition.

Blakeman and supporters of the Las Vegas Sands proposal focused on the potential economic plusses.

The casino would bring in an estimated $5 billion annually to the county and thousands of permanent jobs, according to Kopel.

Vincent Alu, vice president of the local 66 labor union, called the casino a “transformational project.”

“I grew up here on the island and [the Nassau Hub has] been a dead zone for a long time,” said Alu, who is excited about the Sands casino.

Josh Slaughter, the political director of a Long Island labor union, said the casino could incentivize younger generations to stay on the island. “This is the kind of project that will give them careers and jobs to stay here and thrive,” said Slaughter.

But other Nassau County residents strongly oppose the casino plan. The Say No to the Casino Civic Association called the casino “predatory” and a harm to the community, claiming that it has little support outside of Nassau County legislature.

“The fact remains that there is virtually no community support for a casino,” said the association in a statement. “During the recent Town of Hempstead public hearing process … approx. 90% of written comments were in opposition to the casino.”

The association accused Blakeman of verbally attacking Poser.

“Mr. Blakeman needs to understand that he works for the people of Nassau County, not Las Vegas Sands,” said the association in a statement. “Mr. Blakeman’s false accusations today that Hofstra colluded with Steve Cohen is nothing short of defamatory.”

Both the civic association and Hofstra administration called on Blakeman to abide by the court ruling that rendered the original lease with Las Vegas Sands defunct in their statements.

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