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Ascuaga resigns from the Nevada Gaming Commission

Nevada Gaming Commission member Michonne Ascuaga resigned from the regulatory panel Friday, a day after it was revealed in a court filing that the Northern Nevada casino she managed for 16 years is under a federal investigation for failing to implement effective anti-money laundering programs.

“Michonne Ascuaga has served the Nevada Gaming Commission well,” Gov. Brian Sandoval said in accepting her resignation. “I admire her and wish to recognize her family’s long history as leaders in the gaming industry. I appreciate that she has put the credibility and reputation of the Gaming Commission first. Michonne is a consummate professional and will continue to be a leader in our community.”

Sandoval did not name a replacement.

In letter to Sandoval, Ascuaga wrote that she regrets “on-going business litigation that my family is involved in has caused me to submit my resignation.”

Ascuaga, who was CEO of the Sparks Nugget from 1997 until the property’s 2013 sale to a private investment group, cited her family’s 50-year involvement in the Nevada gaming industry. Her father is Northern Nevada gaming pioneer John Ascuaga.

Wednesday’s court filing that disclosed the investigation was part of a lawsuit filed by Sparks Nugget inc. against the resort’s buyers, Wolfhound Holdings, LLC.

The property was under investigation by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCen) when Sandoval appointed Ascuaga to the commission last April. His spokeswoman said Thursday Sandoval did not know about the investigation at that time.

Ascuaga said Thursday she “did not purposely hold back information from the governor. I did disclose to Governor Sandoval and his staff the pending contractual litigation related to the sale involving the Nugget.”

In her letter, Ascuaga said she was resigning “out of deep respect for the Nevada Gaming Commission and to not allow myself to become an unnecessary distraction from the important regulatory oversight work it does.”

According court filings, FinCen has been investigating the resort’s anti-money laundering programs and suspicious activity report practices since 2010. FinCen is looking into reports the casino lacked a compliance culture and operated with insufficient internal controls during Ascuaga’s tenure.

Reno attorney John Echeverria, who represents Sparks Nugget, Inc. in the lawsuit, said Ascuaga is not named in a pending draft consent order between FinCen and the casino.

The Nevada Gaming Commission makes the final rulings on matters involving licensing and other issues that are recommended by the Gaming Control Board. Members of the five-member, part-time commission earn $50,000 a year.

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.

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