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Feds sue Steve Wynn, saying he lobbied Trump on behalf of China

Howard Stutz
Howard Stutz

The U.S. Department of Justice has sued former gaming executive Steve Wynn for not registering as a foreign agent, alleging he lobbied former President Donald Trump and members of his administration on behalf of the Chinese government when he was chairman and CEO of Wynn Resorts.

In a statement, Justice Department officials said Wynn, who resigned his position at Wynn Resorts in 2018 amid sexual misconduct allegations, had been repeatedly advised to register as a foreign agent on behalf of China over the last four years but declined.

The complaint, filed Tuesday in federal court in Washington, D.C., alleged Wynn contacted Trump and administration members between June 2017 and August 2017 on behalf of the Chinese government, which was seeking to return a Chinese national to its country.

In a statement, the Justice Department said Wynn “acted at the request of the People’s Republic of China out of a desire to protect his business interests in Macau.”

Wynn Resorts operates three casinos in Macau, a special administrative region of China. At the time of the contact with the Trump administration, the Macau government had restricted the number of gaming tables and slot machines Wynn’s company could operate. The company was also looking at renegotiating its gaming concession with the Macau government.

“Where a foreign government uses an American as its agent to influence policy decisions in the United States, the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) gives the American people a right to know,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen said in a statement.

It’s unclear what penalties Wynn, 80, could face. The Justice Department wants the court to order Wynn to submit “a true and complete registration statement” and “other and further relief as the court may deem just and proper.”

A spokesperson for Wynn said the former gaming executive, who now lives in Florida, “is exercising his rights as a private citizen and is no longer providing statements nor taking interviews.”

In a statement to The Associated Press, lawyers for Wynn said they would contest the suit.

“Steve Wynn has never acted as an agent of the Chinese government and had no obligation to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act,” said a statement from attorneys Reid Weingarten and Brian Heberlig. “We respectfully disagree with the Department of Justice’s legal interpretation of FARA and look forward to proving our case in court.”

Steve Wynn departed the company he founded in 2018 after a Wall Street Journal report detailed years of alleged sexual harassment and inappropriate relationships with subordinates by Wynn. After departing his namesake company, he sold all his stock in Wynn Resorts and moved to Florida.

A spokesman for Wynn Resorts said he had no comment on the DOJ filing because Steve Wynn is no longer with the company.

The Justice Department said Wynn, acting at the request of the Chinese government, asked the Trump administration to either cancel the visa or remove a Chinese businessman from the United States. The person left China in 2014 and was later charged with corruption by the Chinese government. The businessman had sought political asylum in the United States.

Wynn reportedly was working on behalf of Sun Lijun, then-vice minister of China’s Ministry of Public Security. Wynn conveyed the request directly to Trump over dinner and by phone. He reportedly had multiple discussions with Trump and senior government officials at the White House and National Security Council about organizing a meeting with Lijun and other Chinese government officials.

The Justice Department said the lawsuit was its first under the Foreign Agents Registration Act in more than three decades.

Nevada gaming regulators are still attempting to declare Wynn formally unsuitable to hold a gaming license. In March, the Nevada Supreme Court said a lower court lacked jurisdictional standing when it ruled in 2020 that regulators couldn’t hold Wynn accountable for sexual misconduct and harassment allegations.

Lawyers for Wynn believe gaming regulators no longer have authority over Wynn because he resigned from the company. The case is still pending. 

In a statement Tuesday, Gaming Control Board Chairman Brin Gibson said he reviewed the Justice Department filing and had “brief discussions” with the agency’s attorneys.

“At this time, it is too early to determine what action, if any, the board might take in the context of this matter,” Gibson said. “We will monitor the item carefully going forward.”

In February 2019, Wynn Resorts paid a $20 million fine – the largest in Nevada history – to the Gaming Commission to settle a 10-count complaint that detailed years of failure by former company executives to “report and/or investigate” numerous allegations of sexual assault, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct by Steve Wynn. 

Massachusetts gaming regulators slapped a $35 million fine on Wynn Resorts over the misconduct claims three months later.

(This story was updated at 4:50 p.m. on 5/17/2022 to include additional information and comments from Wynn’s attorneys and Nevada gaming regulators.)

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