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20 medical marijuana dispensary licenses awarded in Mass.

January 31, 2014 12:24 PM

State health officials Friday released the names of companies that will receive the first 20 licenses to open medical marijuana dispensaries in Massachusetts.

In Middlesex County, licenses will go to facilities slated for Lowell, Ayer, Newton, and Cambridge. In Norfolk County, the locations are in Brookline and Quincy. In Suffolk County, two are slated in Boston.

In Plymouth county, licenses will go to facilities slated for Plymouth and Brockton. And in Worcester County, the locations are in Milford and Worcester. In Essex County, they are slated in Salem and Haverhill.

Here are the others: Mashpee and Dennis in Barnstable County; Taunton and Fairhaven in Bristol County; Holyoke in Hampden County; and Northampton in Hampshire County.

Counties without a selected dispensary include Berkshire, Franklin, Dukes and Nantucket.


A look at Brazilian immigration in Framingham and beyond

December 16, 2013 08:45 AM

THE GREEN and yellow Brazilian flag adorns many downtown shops in Framingham, reflecting the pride of the town’s dominant immigrant group. But as much as the waves of Brazilian immigrants have transformed Framingham over the past 30 years, the town has been a melting pot for generations — only slightly more than half of its immigrants are from Brazil. One in four Framinghamites is foreign born.

All the same, immigration continues to cause political friction even in a town seemingly accustomed to newcomers of all nationalities. For here a microcosm of the national immigration debate played out very intensely on the local level: Town Meeting members faced a vote to require the town-funded English as a Second Language program to check the immigration status of its students to qualify for two classes funded by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Globe subscribers can read the entire column here.

Ashland police shooting of suspect was justified, DA says

December 12, 2013 09:27 PM

The following is a press release from the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office

WOBURN – The Middlesex District Attorney’s Office and the Massachusetts State Police assigned to the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office have conducted an investigation into the facts and circumstances of an on-duty officer-involved shooting with a department issued firearm that occurred on July 2, 2013 at 13 Metropolitan Avenue in Ashland and resulted in the death of Andrew Stigliano, 27, of Ashland.

The Middlesex District Attorney’s Office, by statute, has the duty and authority to oversee all death investigations in Middlesex County. As such, the goal of this investigation was to determine if the fatal shooting of Mr. Stigliano by on-duty police officers was legally justified.

The investigation into the officer-involved shooting included interviews of all the responding Ashland Police Officers and civilian witnesses; ballistics examination of evidence found at the scene; review of radio transmissions, police reports, and cell phone records; examinations of several cell phones; and review of medical examiner reports and statements.

That investigation revealed the following facts:

On July 2, 2013 at approximately 10:50 a.m., an Ashland Police Officer was on patrol in a marked police cruiser on Route 135 West when he observed a vehicle pull into traffic. The officer was forced to stop to avoid a collision with the vehicle. The officer recognized the driver as Andrew Stigliano and recalled that he had recently seen Stigliano’s name on the department’s list of individuals with active arrest warrants. The officer radioed to the station to confirm that the arrest warrants were still active and while doing so, he turned his vehicle around and followed Stigliano onto Metropolitan Avenue. The police dispatcher confirmed there were two active arrest warrants for Stigliano and his address on the warrants was 13 Metropolitan Avenue. The officer observed that Stigliano had just pulled into the driveway of that address.

The officer radioed for additional units to respond as backup. A female passenger in Stigliano’s car exited the vehicle and ran toward the backyard. Stigliano entered the home.

FULL ENTRY

Suffolk Downs casino partnership with Mohegan Sun is official

November 27, 2013 02:21 PM

Suffolk Downs announced Wednesday afternoon that it will partner with Mohegan Sun on a resort casino proposed to be built on 42 acres of the racetrack’s 52-acre property in the city of Revere.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission also announced that Suffolk Downs and its casino plans are on the panel’s agenda for a meeting on Tuesday. The Globe reported the new partnership in Wednesday's paper.

Mohegan Sun, which operates casinos in Connecticut, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, had sought a casino license in western Massachusetts until voters in Palmer rejected their proposal earlier this month by less than 100 votes, an outcome that was confirmed Tuesday in a recount.

Suffolk Downs dropped its gaming partner Caesars following a state background check just prior to losing a critical vote in East Boston on Nov. 5, which prompted the track to draw up plans for a new casino just over the city line in Revere.

“Mohegan Sun and Suffolk Downs each began our pursuit of a place in the Massachusetts gaming industry in different ways and different locations. Circumstances brought us together in recent days, and we immediately recognized that something truly special can be created in Revere,” said Mitchell Etess, CEO of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority.

Mohegan Sun and its financial partner Brigade Capital Management, which brings a $15 billion investment, have already been found suitable along with Suffolk Downs by the gaming commission to compete for a license.

As part of the new agreement with Suffolk Downs to become a development partner and gaming operator, Mohegan Sun has agreed to honor all commitments previously made by the track in its host community agreement with Revere, and plans to work with Suffolk Downs to reach surrounding community agreements.

Even though the terms of the host community agreement are not being altered, the commission has not yet ruled on whether the referendum vote in Revere taken when the project still included development in East Boston can stand for a Revere-only project. If Suffolk Downs and Revere can get a casino proposal on track, they would compete with neighboring Everett for the casino license in eastern Massachusetts.

In a statement, Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo said he was “very encouraged” by the new partnership.

- M. Murphy/SHNS

Milford casino defeat fuels call for repeal of state's gambling law

November 20, 2013 06:39 PM

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s overwhelming defeat of a proposed casino in Milford and a string of losses statewide, a group of local officials are calling on Governor Deval Patrick and the legislature to rethink the future of casino gambling in Massachusetts.

Meanwhile, an anti-casino group says it has the signatures necessary to put a referendum on the ballot repealing the law.

Members of the MetroWest Anti-Casino Coalition -- made up of selectmen from Hopkinton, Holliston, Medway and Ashland -- see the defeat of Foxwoods’ plans to build a $1 billion casino at Route 16 and Interstate 495 as just another sign that casinos may not be the right fit for Massachusetts.

“How do you reconcile the legislation that allows this with wave after wave of rejection?” Selectman Jay Marsden of Holliston asked.

“I don’t know how the legislation gets matched up with the fact that basically no one wants to take the plunge and take everything that goes along with saying yes to one of these things,” he said.

The governor, however, has no second thoughts.

Speaking Wednesday to reporters at the State House, Patrick said the law is working exactly as it’s supposed to.

“I think this is something we can do well if we do it the right way. I think the framework of the legislation is the right framework. This has never been central to our economic growth strategy; it’s, for most people, harmless,” he said, according to a transcript provided by Deputy Press Secretary Bonnie McGilpin.

State Representative Carolyn Dykema, a Holliston Democrat who has been a vocal opponent of casino gambling statewide and the Foxwoods proposal in particular, said she sees voters saying the cost of casinos is too high.

“It seems that towns considering casino projects are paying close attention to the details, weighing the economic potential against the costs to residents’ quality of life, and deciding that the costs are just too high,” she wrote in an email to the Globe.

“It’s hard to look at the results of the recent local votes and not question whether casinos can or should be part of Massachusetts’ future,” she wrote.

Meanwhile, the Repeal the Casino Deal campaign says it has collected and filed more than 90,000 signatures from across the state in its effort to put a question repealing the casino law on the 2014 statewide election ballot, according to the group’s spokesman David Guarino.

The group is optimistic the signatures filed by Wednesday’s deadline with local election officials will result in the certification of the necessary 68,911 needed to put the measure before voters. The signatures certified by local communities must be filed with Secretary of State William Galvin’s office by Dec. 4.

The campaign gained momentum after votes defeating casino proposals in East Boston and Palmer earlier this month and built through the final days of the Milford campaign, according to Guarino.

“This has been a huge grassroots effort,” he said. “After the East Boston and Palmer votes, hundreds of new volunteers signed up, and donations started to come in so we were able to pay some people to gather signatures.”

Tables were set-up to gather signatures outside polling places in Milford on Tuesday, and volunteers worked right up until Wednesday’s 5 p.m. deadline, he said.

“We’re very hopeful the necessary number of signatures will be certified allowing us to jump this next hurdle,” Guarino said.

In addition to gathering the signatures, Repeal the Casino Deal has also filed a court challenge of Attorney General Martha Coakley’s decision not to allow residents to vote to overturn the state’s casino law. The state’s Supreme Judicial Court allowed the signature drive to continue pending a hearing on the appeal.

Former Attorney General Scott Harshbarger is leading the appeal effort.

“This is a truly remarkable statewide, grassroots citizen movement,” he said, according to a press release from the group.

“This is still an uphill battle but we get stronger every day with more and more support around this great state for ending this bad idea. Our hats go off to the citizen leaders in community-after-community who are standing up to big money with grassroots might.”

Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at eishkanian@gmail.com.

Foxwoods vastly outspends opponents in runup to Milford casino vote

November 16, 2013 10:24 AM

Foxwoods Resort Casino spent $792,121 between April and the end of October on rent, staffing, polling, advertising, and other costs associated with promoting its plans to build a gambling complex in Milford, according to records filed in connection with Tuesday’s special election on the proposal.

In addition, Foxwoods donated $23,500 to Citizens for Milford’s Future, which backs its plans for the $1 billion resort casino off Interstate 495 and Route 16, campaign finance reports filed last week with Town Clerk Amy E. Hennessy Neves show.

Citizens for Milford’s Future spent approximately $5,000, primarily on catering and advertising, according to the records.

On the other side, Casino-Free Milford raised $23,770 from donations, and spent $13,795, primarily on printing, advertising and mailing costs, according to its filing with the clerk’s office.

Casino-Free Milford lists 32 different donors giving $50 or more, the threshold that must be individually reported. Fourteen of those donations came from outside of Milford, from locations as far away as Tewksbury.

The largest contribution listed by the group was from the Woodshouse Foundation in neighboring Holliston. The casino campaign finance documents are posted on the town clerk’s page on the municipal website, at www.milford.ma.us.

The casino project goes before Milford voters on Tuesday for a life-or-death referendum.

Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at eishkanian@gmail.com.

Regional planners outline potential impact of Milford casino project

November 15, 2013 05:05 PM

The impacts on the entire region from the proposed Foxwoods casino in Milford are really no different than any other very large development that creates a lot of jobs and attracts a lot of patrons, according to Marc Draisen, executive director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.

Over the past several months, the council and the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission have been working with area towns to identify the likely impact of the proposed $1 billion casino off Interstate 495 and Route 16 on issues such as traffic, public safety, and water.

And while there would be some significant positive impacts, including jobs and economic benefits, if the complex proposed for Milford wins a state gaming license, the planners primarily focused on identifying and commenting on the negatives, Draisen said.

A 183-page draft report paid for with a grant from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission suggests ways to minimize or mitigate those negatives on a number of nearby towns, including Ashland, Bellingham, Franklin, Holliston, Hopkinton, Medway, Millis and Upton.

The draft report does not take a position on whether a casino would benefit the region, or how it would change the region’s character.

“We try to stick to the numbers,” Draisen said. “Every large-scale development changes the community it’s located in and those communities surrounding it; this is no different.”

Draisen said his agency’s charge was to focus on the communities around Milford to identify potential impacts that may need to be mitigated, so that they could be covered by the formal “surrounding community’’ agreements required by the state’s new gaming law.

But first, Milford voters will have two chances to decide whether there may even be a need for those negotiations.

A special election Tuesday will serve as a binding referendum on the Foxwoods proposal; a majority vote against the community hosting the casino would end the developer’s bid.

If Milford’s voters approve the project, the plan can move forward. Special Town Meeting is slated to convene next month to decide on a request to rezone the casino site, which requires a two-thirds majority.

The draft report by the regional agencies is being reviewed by local officials, and a final version is expected to be completed early next month.

Traffic has been a major concern for Milford and surrounding communities since the casino proposal first surfaced, and the regional planners also have questions about Foxwoods’ proposed mitigation plans.

The plans call for extra lanes, known as connector/distributor roads, to be built in each direction along Interstate 495 between the Routes 109 and 85 exits, and a connector that would provide access to the 187-acre site and Route 16.

“We think that will go a long way toward alleviating traffic along that stretch,” Draisen said.

But, he said, the draft report raises concern about backups north of the new lanes at I-495 and the Mass. Pike.

In addition, Draisen said, there wasn’t enough consideration given to casino employees who are more likely to use local roads when driving to and from work.

The draft report agrees with Foxwoods’ assumption that residents of neighborhoods along East Main Street (Route 16) in Milford, between I-495 and the Holliston town line, will see the most traffic impact from the casino, but it also identifies other potential problem areas.

The report cites routes 109 and 85, which was identified as likely having more traffic than Foxwoods’ predicts; the intersection of Route 16 and Route 126 (Summer Street); the intersection of Route 16 and Highland Street; Route 16 at South Street and Courtland Street, an intersection that currently has no traffic signals; as well as 11 intersections in Holliston, Medway and Millis.

Crime also is considered by the regional planners.

“It is hard to predict, but there will be an increase in call volume to the police and fire departments, and towns have to be prepared,” Draisen said.

The draft report suggests additional information is needed to determine whether things like additional holding cells, training for responding to emergencies in high-rise buildings, and long-term crime investigators would be needed in surrounding towns, and whether existing mutual aid agreements with Milford need to be restructured.

Drunken-driving arrests and “a variety of other motor vehicle related issues, including speeding, stop sign violations, accidents, and mechanical breakdowns,” will also go up in surrounding communities, according to the draft report.

Water concerns are also addressed.

“There are questions about peak days, and the effect on other future developments,” Draisen said.

The draft report raises questions about Foxwoods’ plans to provide adequate water capacity in the future, and concerns raised by Hopedale and Mendon, which rely on the Milford Water Co. for their supplies.

“Those questions have not adequately been answered yet, but presumably they will be,” Draisen said.

Foxwoods is competing for the lone casino license that will be issued in Greater Boston. A project proposed by Steve Wynn in Everett has been endorsed by the city’s voters. A Suffolk Downs proposal for a casino straddling the East Boston-Revere line is in jeopardy after East Boston voters rejected the plan. Suffolk Downs is attempting to put its complex entirely in Revere, where voters embraced its proposal.

Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at eishkanian@gmail.com.

Suffolk Downs confident of reaching Revere casino deadline

November 14, 2013 12:25 PM

After being snubbed by voters in their hometown of East Boston, Suffolk Downs is revamping its casino plans to fit on its adjacent 52-acre parcel in Revere, which last week voted in support of the casino plan that had been marked for East Boston.

In a letter dated Wednesday to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, Suffolk Downs Chairman William Mulrow said he was confident that all required agreements and studies will be finalized in time to submit an application by the Dec. 31 deadline.

Mulrow said Suffolk Downs has been working on casino plans with Revere officials and hopes to “bring those plans to fruition by the end of this month.”

Having terminated its partnership with Caesars Entertainment, Mulrow also told the commission he hoped by the end of November to have an agreement with a new gaming partner and to present preliminary casino plans to Revere residents and the public.

East Boston opponents of the casino are incensed by the shifting focus to a Revere casino.

Under state regulations, once a host community agreement is signed, the applicant must request a referendum and that election must then be scheduled within 60 to 90 days of the request. Mulrow said Revere zoning rules permit gaming on the property and that he expected “significant additional payments” to Revere under a host agreement that he said could be amended by "mutual consent."

A gaming commission official was unable to answer questions about Suffolk Downs, saying the commission had not reviewed their latest proposal.

- M. Norton/SHNS

Massachusetts regulators raise flags about Foxwoods Milford casino plan

November 13, 2013 06:31 PM

With Milford voters set to deliver their verdict next week on a proposed Foxwoods casino, Massachusetts Gaming Commission investigators raised concerns Wednesday about the applicant’s lack of financing and the role the Connecticut-based tribe that owns Foxwoods would play in the casino’s operations.

The commission met Wednesday to consider the suitability of the applicant known as Crossroads Massachusetts to hold one of three casino gaming licenses in Massachusetts. Foxwoods, owned by the Mashantucket Pequot tribe in Connecticut, holds a minority ownership stake in the proposed project, and would manage the Milford casino.

The commission expects to issue its written suitability determination within days, hoping to make its ruling public before voters in Milford weigh in next Tuesday. If both votes swing in Crossroads’ favor, the applicant will be allowed to submit its Phase II casino application to the commission, for which the deadline is Dec. 31.

Karen Wells, director of the commission’s investigations and enforcement bureau, told the five-member panel that Crossroads had a “glaring issue” with its application because it had not yet secured a 55 percent equity ownership stake in the project.

“This hearing is somewhat unusual because I can’t make a recommendation because we don’t have a complete picture of what this applicant is going to look like,” Wells said.

Wells also said the background investigation raised questions about the group’s ability to operate a successful casino in Massachusetts given the debt and declining revenues at the Foxwoods property in Connecticut.

Scott Butera, president and chief executive of Foxwoods, told the commission that Crossroads has two “very, very strong offers” to fill the equity funding gap and was in active negotiations that should be wrapped up soon.

Though he did not disclose the potential partners due to confidentiality agreements, Butera said one is a private equity fund that had been involved in gaming and has been licensed in other jurisdictions. That group has offered to put up $350 million for the project, and would be involved in the project’s development and governance. Deutsche Bank would provide the loans to finance much of the project.

The second potential partner is a public traded company that would provide a seven-year loan to help finance the project, and purchase the group’s real estate assets to lease them back to Crossroads Massachusetts to operate the casino. Foxwoods, which would maintain a 10 percent ownership stake under both plans, would be the casino operator.

Butera also said that Foxwoods recently went through a restructuring process to reduce its $2.2 billion debt that became a problem after Foxwoods was in the midst of expansion when the recession hit in 2008, precipitating a decline in revenues. With restructuring completed in July, Butera said, the casino is now on strong financial footing, having reduced its debt by $550 million.

David Mackey, an attorney for the Gaming Commission, also grilled the applicants on Wednesday about the management structure of the proposal casino group and the reasons behind a change in the structure earlier this year that removed the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council from their position.

Under the new structure, a three-person committee that includes Butera and Tribal Council Chairman Rodney Butler would oversee daily operation of the casino, but would not report to the full council. Foxwoods would also be just one member of the overarching board of partners controlling the casino and its development.

Mackey questioned whether the change was made to ensure that members of the tribal council would not be subjected to background checks as qualifiers on the application, noting that former Tribal Council treasurer Steven Thomas had been indicted on federal felony theft charge.

Background investigators aired their concerns about the “firewall” between Foxwoods Massachusetts and the Connecticut tribe holding up after the licensing process is over. The applicants said the structure did help limit the number of people considered qualifiers on the application, and has been used in other jurisdictions with success.

Crossroads has proposed to build a $1 billion resort casino off Interstate 495 in Milford with unique New England characteristics and architecture. “The whole idea of this is something meant to be elegant, not opulent,” Butera said.

Located on 187 acres, only 15 percent of the land will be used for the casino development, while the remaining property will be converted into open spaces and greens, bike paths, nature walks and recreation facilities, according to developers. The applicants have pledged $100 million in transportation infrastructure improvements to widen Interstate 495 and build a connector road directly to the property that will decrease traffic through the town and allow easy access to the 200,000 square-foot gaming floor, 500-room hotel, restaurants, retail and more.

“We think that because we’re in the suburbs and that Foxwoods is used to operating in the suburbs we can be a great compliment to those businesses in Boston as opposed to competing with them,” Butera said.

Milford stands to receive $30 million upfront and $30 million annually from the casino in taxes and shared revenue, according to its host agreement with Crossroads, which has pledged to create 3,000 construction jobs and 3,500 permanent jobs in the town.

Despite similar perks offered in host community agreements signed with other cities and towns, casino developers have struggled of late to win over local voters. Residents in Palmer last week narrowly defeated Mohegan Sun’s proposal for a casino in western Massachusetts, while East Boston voted against Suffolk Downs’ bid to build a casino resort at the site of the horse racing track on the Revere-Boston border.

While Suffolk Downs is scrambling to reconstruct its casino bid entirely in Revere where voters strongly approved the project, Wynn Resorts is the only other bidder competing with Crossroads for the eastern Massachusetts license. Steve Wynn has proposed a resort on the Mystic River in Everett.

Butera said Crossroads, if successful in its application, could open its Milford casino by the fall of 2017.

Report raises questions on Foxwoods casino bid in Milford

November 13, 2013 12:54 PM

BOSTON (AP) — A background check by investigators for the Massachusetts Gaming Commission has raised questions about the ability of a group led by Connecticut casino operator Foxwoods to manage a proposed $1 billion resort casino in Milford.

The report, released by commission staff on Wednesday, urged the five-member panel to consider issues Foxwoods has had in finding additional financing, along with Foxwoods’ current debt and overall financial condition.

The commission is holding a two-day hearing before deciding whether the bidder, formally known as Crossroads Massachusetts, is suitable to submit a final application for the sole eastern Massachusetts resort casino license allowed under the state’s 2011 expanded gambling law.

The report said commissioners should question the ‘‘business ability of the applicant to run a successful gaming operation in Massachusetts given its difficulty in finding an additional equity interest and the current debt load and declining revenues of their proposed operator.’’

Karen Wells, director of the gambling agency’s investigations and enforcement bureau, said at the outset of the hearing that she was unable to advise the commissioners as to whether the Foxwoods bid should be cleared to continue in the process. She said the ‘‘glaring issue’’ involved the failure of the group to secure a 55 percent equity ownership interest in the project.

‘‘The IEB is not in a position to make a recommendation about suitability because we don’t have a complete picture of what this applicant is going to look like,’’ Wells said.

Scott Butera, Foxwoods’ president and chief executive, told the commission that Foxwoods was in active negotiations with two entities that had made ‘‘very strong offers’’ to fill the gap in equity funding.

‘‘I am confident in short order we will have that done,’’ Butera said.

He did not identify the potential equity partners, citing confidentiality in the negotiations, but said one was a private equity firm with experience in the casino industry, and the other a publicly traded company that would provide funding for the real estate portion of the development.

Butera said Foxwoods successfully restructured its debt earlier this year and is now on sound financial footing.

Stephen Crosby, chairman of the commission, said the panel would make a written recommendation on suitability at some point after the hearing was concluded.

Foxwoods must also gain the approval of Milford residents in a referendum scheduled for Tuesday before it can file a formal application by the Dec. 31 deadline. The project would be built on an undeveloped site near Interstate 495.

Las Vegas casino operator Steve Wynn, who has proposed a $1.2 billion resort casino along the Mystic River in Everett, is also pursuing the eastern Massachusetts license.

Another potential bidder for the license, Suffolk Downs, suffered a major blow last week when East Boston voters rejected the project in a referendum. The thoroughbred race track has since opened discussions with officials in Revere — where residents voted to back the proposed casino — about the possibility of moving the entire project into that city.

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