Self-made Billionaire Sheldon Adelson Investigated by Justice Department

Email a Friend
From and

At the center of this election season's explosion of vast donations of cash is Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire casino magnate who owns hotels in Las Vegas and Macau and has donated tens of millions of dollars to the Republican presidential campaign.

Investigations by both federal and Nevada authorities are looking into whether Adelson’s company, Las Vegas Sands, violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act with their casino in China. Both investigations are ongoing, but investigative journalism non-profit ProPublica obtained emails from within the company that shed light on events leading to the investigation, according to its managing editor Stephen Engelberg.

"What happened in this case is that the casino, Las Vegas Sands, hired a man named Leonel Alves, who was both a legislator and advisor to the chief executive of Macau as their local lawyer," Engelberg says. "He helped them solve some very serious problems that they were having." Alves applied "pressure" to local planning officials to settle some real estate issues that Adelson's company was having. 

The payment of a government official in exchange for services is a violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. There was internal dissent as to the legality of hiring Alves, but the dissenters did not last long within the company. "Everybody who said that who we can track down within the company was subsequently either fired or resigned," Engelberg says. 

Adelson and his wife, Miriam, accounted for around half of the $20 million raised last month by Restore Our Future, the super PAC that supports Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. The billionaire is also a heavy contributor to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Adelson is of Jewish descent and bankrolls Birthright, a program which allows Jewish youth to travel to Israel.

"Our current campaign finance laws allow him to give unlimited amounts of money to these PACs and super PACs that support the candidates that he likes," Engelberg says. If Romney were elected, he would possibly be placed into an unprecedented situation — prosecuting one of the most important donors to his campaign. "The new president and his attorney general would have to decide what to do with recommendations about that case, which I think will come well into the next administration," Engelberg says.