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UPDATE: Casino Questions

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (CBS 2/Fox 28) -- Just days after a Cedar Rapids councilman calls for an investigation, the Mayor wants answers about casino donations made to a non-profit group.

As we first reported last week, casino contributions were made to "Battleship Iowa" just weeks after Linn County applied for a gaming license.

As we first told you Friday, CBS 2 News learned Iowa Racing and Gaming Chairman, Jeff Lamberti, also chairs the board of a non-profit called "Battleship Iowa." 
          
The non-profit received major donations from the casinos Lamberti is tasked to regulate.

Monday, Tiffany O'Donnell sat down with Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett, who says while the charity is a good cause, the relationship, to him, is troubling.
Here's what CBS 2 news has uncovered today: The Kehl Family Foundation, owners of Riverside Casino, donated dollars to "Battleship Iowa" in July of 2012. Their next donation, however came a year later, in September of 2013, less than two weeks after Linn County applied for a gaming license. A donation of $90,000 was made directly from Riverside Casino

We asked Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission Executive Director Brian Ohrilko about the contribution.  He says any donation over $100,000 needs the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission board approval.  Therefore, the $90,000 donation from Riverside Casino did not require the attention of the board.  

Last Friday, Cedar Rapids City Councilman Justin Sheilds called for an independent investigation following the contributions and the subsequent "thank-you" dinner held at Terrace Hill, ten days before the Cedar Rapids casino license vote, an event attended by Chairman Lamberti and Governor Terry Branstad. 

Corbett supports Sheilds' call for an investigation.

"I think it needs to be either at the legislative level, legislative oversight committee, which would be a make-up of the House and the Senate and be bipartisan, based on some of their findings, the Attorney General may want to start asking some questions also," says Mayor Ron Corbett.

In addition, CBS 2 uncovered through the Secretary of State's office, the fundraising firm hired to raise $5-7 million for the "Battleship Iowa" project is a firm owned by Lamberti and his partner, Becky Beach. The firm called Riverside Partners, Inc.  The firm has no connection to Riverside Casino.

"That would be one question I would have, along with many others.  Was there any financial gain for Chairman Lamberti or any of his partners?  Did they gain from this fundraising?  And if that's the case, than this thing does really get bad," said Mayor Ron Corbett.

We spoke with Becky Beach by phone Monday. In a statement she says: "I was personally compensated in 2012 and October 2013 for work and contributions that the Pacific Battleship Center received from a casino or gaming industry.  Jeff Lamberti was not, nor will be ever compensated for any work related to the gaming industry.  As well, Riverside Partners has not received any payment on any work related to the gaming industry."
   
A statement from the Governor's office Monday says: "the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission is an independent agency.  The governor's utmost concern when considering candidates for the commission is to protect the integrity of the state."

Tuesday, Democratic candidate for governor State Sen. Jack Hatch issued a statement to CBS 2 that said, "I support Mayor Corbett's inquiry into a potential conflict of interest in the racing and gaming process.  That would be very troubling, and under normal circumstances I would believe Iowa's longstanding tradition of integrity in government would make such corruption impossible.  

However, against the backdrop of the Branstad administration's secret settlements, hush money, public lies by department directors, illegal closures of state facilities, unconstitutional acts and other elected officials paying their employees to not show up at work -- I am forced to conclude, sadly, that while Branstad is in office, anything is possible.  

I hope some clarity can be brought to the issue and that Cedar Rapids residents get the answers they need in order to conclude that decisions of the commission are free from undue influence."
   
The questions aren't about the U.S.S Iowa project.  It's merely a window into some events leading up to the Racing and Gaming Commission's ultimate vote to deny Cedar Rapids a gaming license.
 
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