Steve Wynn Civil Trial Appears More Likely in Foreign Lobbying Case

The odds of Steve Wynn standing trial just increased this week. That’s as attorneys for the disgraced former Wynn Resorts Ltd. CEO reported that they are unlikely to reach a settlement with the US Justice Department. That body filed a civil lawsuit against Wynn for failing to register as a Chinese lobbyist. According to a Tuesday filing in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, a trial could start next year.

Steve Wynn’s first trial, since the former Wynn Resorts CEO resigned in 2018 amid sexual harassment allegations, could begin next year. (Image: CNBC)

The US government sued Wynn in May to compel him to register as an agent of China under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). According to the suit, Wynn lobbied then-president Donald Trump – as well as White House and National Security Council officials – at Beijing’s behest in 2017. That’s when he told them that China wanted the US to extradite Guo Wengui, an exiled critic of the Chinese government. The Justice Department claimed that Wynn delivered the message to protect his casino operations in Macau, which compels the registration.

The case marks the first FARA lawsuit by the Justice Department in more than 30 years.

Wynn’s Defense

Wynn’s attorneys deny the allegation. They claim the message was passed along as a diplomatic offer from Sun Lijun, then-deputy minister China’s public security – an offer that the former president declined. They claim that Wynn was “fully transparent in his dealings with the Trump administration.”

According to Wynn’s attorneys, forcing him to register as a Chinese lobbyist would violate his First and Fifth Amendment rights. They also argue that his obligation to register as a Chinese lobbyist ended after delivering the message from Lijun to Trump, since it ended his relationship with the Chinese government. And they argue that the Justice Department’s complaint does not meet the legal standard required to compel registration.

Lijun was recently sentenced to death by the Chinese government after being convicted of manipulating the stock market, accepting $91 million in bribes, selling official jobs, and abandoning his post during the COVID-19 outbreak. (The death sentence comes with a two-year reprieve, which means it could be commuted to life imprisonment if Sun is deemed to have “reformed” after two years’ incarceration.)

US District Judge James Boasberg is expected to rule on Wynn’s motion to dismiss the case within two weeks.

Fallout Keeps Falling

The government’s filing is just the latest in a string of legal actions plaguing the former casino executive. He now occupies a very strange netherworld in popular opinion. Some see him as being the visionary who recast Las Vegas as a luxury destination by opening the Mirage – which at $630M was the world’s most expensive resort when it opened in 1989 – while others claim he is a sexual predator.

The sexual allegations against Wynn — first publicized in a 2018 Wall Street Journal story – have resulted in Wynn Resorts receiving record fines from gaming regulators. These include a $35M fine from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. That was for failing to disclose a $7.5M settlement paid in 2005 to a woman who said Wynn forced himself on her. The penalties also included a $20M fine from the Nevada Gaming Commission for failing to investigate claims of sexual misconduct made against Wynn before he resigned.

On Sept. 1, a lawsuit was filed against Wynn Resorts by Brenna Schrader, one of its employees, against the company and several former employees. The massage therapist — who claims Steve Wynn forced her to act as an “on-call sexual servant” while he was with the company — alleged that the company continues, to this day, to create a hostile work environment. She also claimed Wynn retaliates against her for seeking justice against her victimizer. (Wynn Resorts filed a motion to dismiss that lawsuit on Sept. 19.)

Steve Wynn, who stepped down as Wynn Resorts’ CEO and chairman in February 2018, has repeatedly asserted that he never harassed or sexually assaulted anyone. Since quitting the casino business, he has tried to reinvent himself as a Florida-based art dealer.

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