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Business Mohegan Tribe, Owners Of Casino, Defends Getting $54 Million In Federal Loans



ABC 11:33 a.m. EDT, June 18, 2010



The Mohegan Tribe of southeastern Connecticut today defended their receipt of $54 million in federal Recovery Act loans, saying the money will put more than 100 people back to work on a stalled project. [Do the math]


The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced May 27 that the tribe would get low-interest loans for the construction of a community and education center. The tribe's loans, five of them, were among 145 announced by the Agriculture Department. The Mohegans got the largest share of the $167.8 million announced that day.


The loan program is intended to "create jobs and improve needed infrastructure in rural communities across the nation," the department said.


A recent report by ABC news highlighted the fact that the loans were being awarded to the owners of one of the nation's biggest casinos.



Chuck Bunnell, a spokesman for the tribe, said the building will house the tribe's library, archives, tribal court, human services and other government departments, Library, archives, tribal court, health and human services.


"It has nothing to do with the casino," he said.


The tribe initially financed the project — now scaled down from its original $90 million version to about $75 million – from its own income, the overwhelming majority of which comes from the operation of the casino. The tribe was preparing to issue tax-exempt bonds to finance the rest of it at the time the recession constricted the credit markets, he said.


The tribe then sought other means, applying for the federal loan sometime in the last year, Bunnell said.


"What it will do is it will put back to work the people who lost their jobs when we stopped the project," he said.


More than 100 construction workers, largely union carpenters, plumbers, sheet metal workers and others, were laid off when the tribe halted construction in early 2009, after nearly two years. It remains unfinished and shrink-wrapped, Bunnell said.


The loans must be repaid. Bunnell said the interest rate is "blended" and could fluctuate, but is expected to be around 3 percent, which he acknowledged as "very good."


A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd, who supported the tribe's loan application, said in a statement: "Throughout his career, Sen. Dodd and the entire Connecticut delegation have worked tirelessly to secure jobs and economic prosperity for the state of Connecticut. That is why he supported the economic recovery package, as well as the Mohegan Tribe's loan application, because it will create and preserve local jobs."

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