"There's nothing wrong with getting around a law, as long as you're right," she said. "This is an area that we really haven't had too much experience with, and these things are not very clear-cut. Essentially, they're taking a chance."
Rolling the dice
Few unions seem more curious than that of the Seminoles, a tribe nearly hunted to extinction in the Florida swamps, and Cordish, a fifth-generation Baltimorean and midfielder on the Johns Hopkins University's national champion lacrosse team in 1959.
While Cordish, 64, has acquired a squeaky-clean business image, gaining nationwide acclaim as a bold and creative specialist in urban renewal, the Seminole deal has him rolling dice with a tribe known for sparring with the government, spending excessively and scuffling with the law.
"OK, look, I could pontificate and say I'm doing this for social reasons, but that would not be fair for me to say," said Cordish, whose company is the only five-time winner of the prestigious Urban Land Institute award of excellence. "I'm thrilled to be doing this. I feel better about this project than any project we've ever done. But it's also a plain, ordinary business deal."
Cordish repeatedly told The Sun that he considers the Seminole casino project to be among his finest accomplishments.
"You know how when they have a diving meet, they grade the divers on the degree of difficulty?" he said. "This has got five backflips in it."
But he declined to discuss some of his dealings with the Seminoles in detail, saying it is a private matter between his company and the tribe and that the documentation is too complex for most people to understand. Seminole leaders take a similar position.
So blurry is the early history between the Baltimore development firm and the Seminole Tribe that two of the most conspicuous figures don't even agree on whether they've met.
Asked his impression of Billie, Cordish replied, "I'll never forget the first time I met him," noting one of his trademarks - the finger that he lost to an alligator in early 2000. For months Billie kept it in a vial, sometimes wearing it around his neck, and talked of displaying it at the tribe's Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Indian Museum.
"He had half of a finger in a little jar, and I said, `Mr. Chairman, what happened?'" Cordish recalled. "And he said, `Well, I wrestle alligators. And this is one that I lost.'"
Billie said he doesn't recall meeting Cordish, and that the tribe's casino negotiations were always handled by intermediaries. He says that in 1979 when he was shown his first casino contract, just a dozen or so pages, he read only the first page - where he noticed the word bingo - and the last - where he saw estimates that the tribe would earn $3 million.
"I wouldn't fault the man if he didn't remember me," said Cordish. "We certainly didn't have a discussion or anything else."
Regardless of his interactions with Cordish, Billie says that in early 2000 he knew what he wanted - more money for the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The Hollywood casino was old and smoky and needed an upgrade. The chief imagined something spectacular, with lakes and a fountain and a 2,000-room hotel. After checking with industry consultants, Billie says he concluded that David Cordish was the right man to help him get it.
Operating through Power Plant Entertainment LLC, the Cordish Co. signed two contracts with the Seminole Tribe in late July 2000: a "developer agreement" to build two casinos and a "financial services engagement letter" pledging to arrange most of the financing.
According to legal documents that discuss subsequent changes, that initial contract would have paid Power Plant 17 percent of the two casinos' gross gambling revenue after debt payments. Timothy W. Cox, a former Seminole official who helped negotiate the contracts, said the payments were to last 15 years, but the duration is not mentioned in public documents.
Within months of signing the deal, Billie began to encounter political turbulence from the other four elected members of the tribal council. Unhappy with his oversight of tribal finances - and his control over their personal spending - the council members began taking the unprecedented position of overruling their longtime chairman on matters of operations and finance.
In early 2001, they canceled Billie's plan to buy a $42.5 million Gulfstream V jet, then seized control of the tribe's newspaper, which was seen as sympathetic to the chairman, and fired its staff. Members reportedly encouraged a former employee to file a sexual harassment lawsuit against Billie. The woman, who alleged that she had had a sexual relationship with Billie and that he forced her to have an abortion, swore in an affidavit in a federal lawsuit Billie later filed against the tribe that she had lodged her complaint at the urging of tribal officials.