Investigation focused on Troha tactics, associates 5-18-07

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - A Kenosha trucking tycoon accused of illegally funneling money to Gov. Jim Doyle's campaign used questionable political tactics in his business dealings dating back to when his group tried to develop one of Wisconsin's first dog racing tracks, according to a state investigation released Friday.

Dennis Troha and his partners improperly tried to influence then-Gov. Tommy Thompson into awarding their group one of the state's first dog track operator's license in 1989, the investigation by the state Department of Administration's Division of Gaming found.

In his recent attempt at building a casino in Kenosha, Troha failed to disclose to the Division of Gaming he had been interviewed by state investigators regarding the track license in the past, the investigation said. The past investigation never led to charges.

The information released Friday, including a 46-page summary and more than 1,000 pages of investigative reports and documents, also delved into Troha's associates.

“Dennis Troha has a history of having business partners with ties to organized crime,” it said.

Troha's spokesman, Jeff Fleming, called the investigation “a compilation of every unsubstantiated innuendo and rumor.”

“The contents of the report have not been verified or subjected to the routine review that the state would ordinarily conduct before making formal findings,” Fleming said in a statement. “Because of the circumstances, it is neither fair nor practical for Mr. Troha to respond to specific statements in the report.”

The Gaming Division investigated Troha's background as part of an application by Kenesah Gaming Development asking for state permission to partner with the Menominee and Mohegan tribes to develop an $808 million casino in Kenosha.

A federal grand jury indicted Troha in March for allegedly committing fraud and lying to the FBI about donations to Doyle. The indictment alleges Troha funneled more than $100,000 through family members to Doyle's campaign and others, skirting state laws that cap donations at $10,000 per election.

Doyle has the final say over whether the Kenosha casino can go ahead.

Troha has pleaded not guilty. He sold his share of the project to the Mohegan in February, shortly before he was indicted.

On Friday the Division of Gaming officially decided to allow him to withdraw from the project.

In releasing that decision, the division also released the investigation that was completed in February. It offers no recommendation on whether the state should grant Kenesah the development contract.

The investigation detailed how Troha and his partners in Kenosha Gateway Development Limited Partnership tried to obtain a dog track operator's license in Kenosha in 1989.

Thompson, who now is seeking the Republican nomination for president, was governor at the time, and the state had just legalized parimutuel betting and decided to allow development of five dog tracks.

The Wisconsin Racing Board ultimately gave the license to Dairyland Greyhound Park, Inc., instead of Troha's group, the investigation noted.

The state Justice Department probed how Dairyland won the license. Though no charges were ever filed, the probe found that Troha and his friends believed they had the license “in the bag” because of dealings with Thompson associates and alleged promises to make campaign contributions to the then-governor.

The investigation also found that Troha met with Menominee tribal legislators in 2000 in Chicago and persuaded them to rescind a tribal gaming commission decision that Troha associate and former Congressman Morgan Murphy Jr. was “unsuitable” to work with on the casino project - tactics the state investigation called “questionable.”

Thompson spokesman Tony Jewell said when contacted Friday night that the licensing decisions were made independently.

“All decisions on gaming licenses were made by the independent gaming board, and in this case the license was ultimately awarded to another organization,” he said.

Messages left by The Associated Press for Doyle spokesman Matt Canter weren't immediately returned.