by Matthew Campbell and Daniela Wei
When FBI agents recently raided an office on the U.S. island of Saipan, they unlocked a cabinet full of Chinese passports belonging to construction laborers without work credentials. The agency, which made at least one arrest, said it was acting on reports of “systematic human smuggling.”
The documents were pulled from a contracting company hired to build a lush gambling resort on this remote patch of U.S. territory — an ambitious expansion of Best Sunshine Live, a little storefront casino where billions of dollars are wagered each month.
The contractor’s operation isn’t alone in drawing federal government scrutiny: The U.S. Justice Department is investigating the activities of the casino itself, operated by Imperial Pacific International Holdings Ltd., including possible violations of anti-money-laundering rules, people familiar with the situation said this month. Peter Carr, a Justice Department spokesman, declined to comment.
Since the March 30 search of the contractor, prompted by an undocumented worker’s death at the construction site, work has slowed on the new gold-leaf flecked gaming complex, several residents said.
It’s the latest setback for Imperial Pacific. The Hong Kong-listed casino operator, which won the exclusive right to operate casinos on Saipan, counts former directors of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency among its high-profile board members and advisers. Best Sunshine Live has generated per-table VIP revenues that are far higher than those at the largest resorts in Macau and Las Vegas. The high turnover has already drawn the attention of the U.S. Treasury, people familiar with the situation said last year.
Nearby at the starter casino, a shopfront by a laundromat in a duty-free mall, turnover has been brisk. Best Sunshine Live’s VIP tables handled just under $3 billion in betsin March, the company said on April 2, up from $1.67 billion a month earlier.
Imperial Pacific, controlled by Chinese entrepreneur Cui Lijie, has assembled a team of high-powered U.S. political figures to assist with its Saipan ambitions. Its chairman is Mark Brown, a former executive with Donald Trump’s Atlantic City casinos. Former CIA director James Woolsey and Eugene Sullivan, formerly a senior military judge, sit on its board. Former Louisiana Governor Haley Barbour, former FBI director Louis Freeh and former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell serve as advisers, the company said in a March 28 presentation.
Rendell has since stepped down, Philly.com reported on April 7. The casino operation is too far away for Rendell to monitor effectively, the site quoted him as saying. Neither Rendell nor Imperial Pacific responded to requests for comment on the report.