Japanese billionaire Kazuo Okada is in the gambling business, and he’s trying to raise the stakes in the most important game of his career.
He did just that when he hired former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff to analyze and debunk an extremely critical report by Wynn Resorts Ltd. used in its effort to force Okada from the company. As first reported by the Review-Journal, Chertoff’s 45-page assessment calls the investigative conclusions led by former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh, “structurally deficient, one-sided, and seemingly advocacy driven.”
I know aces beat kings, but does one ex-Homeland Security chief trump a former FBI director?
While we’re throwing around credentials, Wynn Resorts has also made use of the services of the Arkin Group of New York, whose president and founding partner Jack Devine was a 32-year veteran and former associate director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The Retired Fed Full-Employment Act is part of the increasingly nasty fight between Okada and Wynn Resorts Chairman Steve Wynn, who in February 2012 forced the discounted redemption of Okada’s 20 percent, 24.5 million share stake in the company they co-founded.
For months Okada seemed unwilling or unable to fight back publicly. That began to change recently, and the Chertoff analysis is further proof of a more aggressive strategy by the Japanese businessman. In addition to playing a high-profile role with homeland security at a pivotal time, Chertoff also co-authored the USA Patriot Act. He was a judge on the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals and is also a former deputy U.S. attorney general. As a federal prosecutor with the Southern District of New York, he took part in the infamous Mafia Commission trial.
Call him a hired gun if you wish. That’s what Okada’s advocates have called Freeh, whose report has not only helped force the billionaire from Wynn Resorts, but also has heated him up with the U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI and state Gaming Control Board. The FBI is investigating Okada for possible violations of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act over his attempt to secure a casino license in the Philippines. In a statement, the company has said it’s fully cooperating with the investigation.
Prepared by the Covington & Burling law firm and co-authored by Steven Fagell, Benjamino Haley and David Zionts, the Chertoff assessment reads in part, “An independent investigation should employ a careful and thorough process, consider all relevant and material evidence, and reach sound factual and legal conclusions. The Freeh Report’s numerous deficiencies on all these fronts suggest that FSS (Freeh’s former law firm of Freeh Sporkin & Sullivan) viewed itself as an advocate first and an impartial investigator second. To use Mr. Freeh’s words, the Report has the feel of a ‘brief’ focused on telling one side of the story.”
Chertoff’s counter-report is, of course, also written on behalf of a client in an apparent effort to emphasize the deficiencies contained in the report compiled by the other guy’s highly credentialed expert. It’s no more independent than the report it seeks to debunk.
With due respect to both efforts, there’s a significant difference between the work of Freeh and Chertoff: the timing.
The Freeh Report, whatever its shortcomings, has helped lead to a federal criminal investigation of Okada.
The Chertoff analysis, for all its strengths, reads like a pointed and professional attempt at late-inning damage control.
But at last Okada has hired a professional to counter Freeh’s pummeling. There is now officially another side to that element of this increasingly complex story.
In a statement, Okada couldn’t resist a dig: “It’s obvious that (Freeh’s) biased report was part of Steve Wynn’s campaign to eliminate me as a rival to his power within Wynn Resorts.”
A spokesman for Wynn Resorts declined comment.
But I am left wondering, what next? A Freeh Report II that critique’s Chertoff’s dressing down of Freeh Report I?
It would appear the possibilities — and billable hours — are endless.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at email@example.com or call (702) 383-0295.