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Casino owner's health cited as reason for delay in disciplinary hearing

Andy Sanborn, seen in the NHPR studios during his 2018 campaign for Congress.
Dan Tuohy
/
NHPR
Andy Sanborn, seen here in a 2018 file photo, is fighting to keep his license to operate a casino after state regulators accused him of financial fraud.

Lawyers for Andy Sanborn said he's been too ill to mount a defense against accusations by state regulators that he fraudulently obtained and misused COVID relief funds for lavish personal expenses.

A hearing before the New Hampshire Lottery Commission on whether Sanborn, a former state senator and the owner of the Concord Casino, should lose his charitable gaming license was postponed for the second time last week after his lawyer obtained a court order delaying the proceeding.

"We're also dealing with lots of medical appointments and side effects from medical appointments. I'd rather not get into the specific details, but he's very sick, very, very sick," Sanborn's attorney Zachary Hafer said.

Hafer requested a two-month postponement, arguing that he was new to the case and needed more time to thoroughly review the extensive documentation related to the investigation that found Sanborn unsuitable to hold a gaming license in New Hampshire. In addition to legal arguments about witnesses and discovery, Hafer said more time was necessary due to Sanborn's health.

Given Sanborn's health concerns, "that would make cramming hearing preparation into a few weeks both impracticable and inhumane," Hafer wrote.

Sanborn's legal battle stemmed from a joint investigation by the Attorney General and the Lottery Commission, which found him unsuitable to be associated with charitable gaming. Sanbornfraudulently obtained $844,000 of federal COVID relief funds and used the money to support his lavish lifestyle, including buying sports cars for himself and his wife, State Rep. Laurie Sanborn, according to the findings of the eight-month investigation. The relief funds were intended for struggling small businesses, and casinos were exempt from receiving the money. State authorities allegge Sanborn got around that by concealing the registered trade name "Concord Casino" on his application, using the name "Win Win Win LLC" instead and listing the business activity as "miscellaneous."

The findings of the investigation were released on Aug 31. Sanborn made a request for a hearing and it was initially set for Oct.3.

A judge delayed the most recent hearing after Sanborn's lawyer argued they needed more time to analyze and collect documents, hire forensic accountants, and assess witnesses.

"We are asking for two months, which is about a quarter of the time that the investigation took. We think that's really reasonable here," Hafer said, according to transcripts of a pre-hearing conference. "We think that it would afford a process in which we can defend these charges."

Before Hafer took on the case, Sanborn had to change attorneys multiple times, with one stepping down due to a conflict of interest. In addition, more time is needed to locate and question an unnamed individual who Sanborn consulted for advice before filing the COVID funding application, Hafer said.

Debra Douglas, the chairperson of the Lottery Commission, expressed concerns about delaying the hearing.

"The optics for this agency is not good. People are coming up to me all the time and it's damaging our brand," she said.

Even with the hearing postponed to 10 days later, Sanborn's legal team maintained more time was needed for preparation.

Just a day before the scheduled hearing, Merrimack County Superior Court Judge Martin Honigberg issued a temporary restraining order against Douglas and the Commission, effectively halting the anticipated hearing set for Oct. 13.

"We disagree with the positions that the licensee takes in its filings. The Office did appear at the court hearing and objected to the licensee's request to delay the licensing hearing," said the Attorney General's office in an email statement. "We will review the judge's order and will continue to work to move this forward. The temporary injunction from the Merrimack Superior Court did not in any way dispute the findings or the merits of the investigation into the Concord Casino, but rather was specific to the timing for the hearing."

The court directed the parties to schedule a hearing within 10 days or to decide whether to extend the order.

Douglas also indicated the desire for the hearing to take place before her travels, which, according to Sanborn's attorney, "does not suggest that Respondents' due process concerns are being taken seriously."

The Lottery Commission has not submitted any written filings.

Sanborn's operator and facility license expires on Dec 31. If Sanborn is found unsuitable after the hearing, he would no longer be eligible to hold a gaming license, and a revocation process would be set in motion. Regardless of the hearing's outcome, Sanborn retains the option to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.

Records show the Concord Casino takes in about $1 million in revenue per year. It remains open for business seven days a week.

This articles is being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visitcollaborativenh.org.

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