Bethlehem City Controller Robert Pfenning told City Council Tuesday that he will sell off his 100 shares of stock in the Las Vegas Sands Corp. by next week to comply with state ethics laws.
As a public official holding an elected office, Pfenning is prohibited from owning any stock in the company that owns the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem or any other casino operator that has a facility in Pennsylvania.
Before he was appointed by Northampton County Court to be the controller in March, Pfenning would often mention his status as a minor shareholder in the casino company when he spoke at council meetings.
But that stock ownership escaped the notice of county court judges who selected Pfenning after City Council could not agree on a replacement for Meg Holland, who resigned in January. It also slipped Pfenning’s mind as he was being picked.
“I screwed up badly,” Pfenning said. “I clearly forgot what I knew. Nonetheless, the law is the law. The 100 shares will be sold next week.”
The initial state legislation, adopted in 2004, that brought casinos to Pennsylvania allowed elected officials to own up to, but not more than a 1 percent stake in a casino company. But some time between that law’s adoption and the first casino opening, new laws were adopted that prohibited any casino stock ownership, Pfenning said.
“Everyone on Council knew you had 100 shares of Sands stock,” said Councilwoman Karen Dolan. “I don’t know if there were any deep concerns about it.”
Though no complaint was ever filed with the state Ethics Commission, some council members were concerned.
“I’m glad that he admitted he broke the law,” said Councilman J. William Reynolds, when asked about it after the meeting.
“He’s complying with the law,” said Councilman Michael Recchiutti. “I think it was the only thing he could do.”
Dolan asked if his status as an appointed or temporary public official might change the way the law views him.
Pfenning said he has no intention of challenging the law’s definition of a public official who cannot own casino stock.
“I knew about it,” he said. “I made a mistake and here I’m telling you it’s going to be corrected.”