Steve Wynn allegedly acted as agent of China, per DOJ lawsuit

Haley Hintze Author Photo
Haley Hintze
Posted on: May 19, 2022 15:18 PDT

The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a civil complaint against Wynn Resorts founder and former CEO Steve Wynn, alleging that the long-time Las Vegas casino magnate had lobbied the U.S. government on behalf of the People's Republic of China (PRC). The complaint seeks to compel Wynn to register as a foreign agent, after the DOJ previously advised him to register in such a manner years earlier and Wynn declined to do so.

Wynn, now 80, is accused of lobbying former U.S. President Donald Trump and other Trump administration officials to return wealthy Chinese businessman Guo Wengui to the PRC to face corruption charges. According to the DOJ's complaint against Wynn, he nearly succeeded in having Wengui returned to China, though China and U.S. have no formal extradition treaty.

China's hopes to repatriate Wengui fell apart when President Trump was counter-lobbied against Wynn's efforts. Wengui had strong business ties to Trump Admin insider Steven Bannon, and Wengui himself was a member and long-time resident at Trump's Mar-a-Lago retreat in south Florida. Wengui sought asylum in the U.S. after fleeing China in 2014, and Wynn's lobbying efforts are alleged to have occurred in the summer of 2017, shortly after Trump took office.

The DOJ complaint alleges that Wynn lobbied Trump and other administration officials at the direct request of Sun Lijun, then the Vice Minister of the PRC’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS). Wynn brought the Chinese request directly to Trump on multiple occasions and attempted to bring U.S. and Chinese officials together to discuss the Wengui.

China has, on occasion, been successful in having high-profile expats returned from the U.S. despite the lack of extradition treaty. However, according to a DOJ statement, Wynn is the first person to be sued under the U.S.'s Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) in more than three decades.

Wynn's power waned after sexual misconduct scandal

Wynn has long boasted strong ties to the People's Republic of China, being one of three casino developers to secure initial rights to develop a mega-casino property in Macau, a special economic district under Chinese rule. In Wynn's case, that became Wynn Macao, one of the largest casino-entertainment properties on the planet.

Wynn has been a controversial figure in the American casino-entertainment scene for many years. He was perhaps the second-most-influential American casino executive, behind the late CEO of Sands Corp., Sheldon Adelson, in seeking to block the legalization of online poker and other forms of online gambling

However, Wynn's days as a gambling kingpin ended not long after the period when the DOJ says the illicit lobbying on China's behalf occurred. In early 2018, Wynn was exposed by numerous company employees as having committed many acts of sexual misconduct over a period allegedly spanning decades. Eventually, Wynn was forced to resign from his role as the leader of the company that bears his name, while prosecutors also determined that other Wynn officials were complicit in allowing the misconduct to proliferate. Wynn Resorts was fined $20 million by Nevada regulators in 2019 for its generalized failure to protect its workplace and employees from Steven Wynn's misconduct, which has resulted in numerous lawsuits and settlements since at least 2006.

Featured image source: Wynn Resorts