-By Peter Henderson and James Pomfret

February 8, 2012- It's never good for the candidate when a big donor runs afoul of the law – as President Barack Obama learned this week: his campaign returned large donations from Chicago's Cardona brothers after it was reported that a third brother is a fugitive from U.S. drug and fraud charges.

Some Republican candidates for president could find themselves similarly embarrassed if criminal investigations against casino mogul Sheldon Adelson's Las Vegas Sands for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act come to fruition before November.

Probes by the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission focus on the casino company's operations in Macau, the world's biggest gambling hub, court documents show. A former executive in Adelson's empire, whose allegations are believed to be central to the probe, cites potential illegal dealings with a public official, as well as a tie to an organized crime figure. (That link was first reported by Reuters in a 2010 special report: High-rollers, triads and a Las Vegas giant – link.reuters.com/dyg56s)

Adelson and his wife single-handedly propped up Newt Gingrich's campaign with $10 million Super PAC donations in January, and Adelson recently signaled he would write big checks to Mitt Romney, too, if he wins the nomination.

As he's seized the role of kingmaker, press accounts of the normally reclusive Adelson have focused on his politics: He is a passionate supporter of Israel, his wife is Israeli, and he recently said his teenage son might return to the country to become a sniper in the Israel Defense Forces.

Far less notice has been paid to the fact that his company is the target of both a federal criminal investigation and a civil lawsuit by the former chief of China operations of Las Vegas Sands. He alleges improprieties at the global casino enterprise that has made Adelson, with about $22 billion, the world's 16th richest man. (Special Report: The Macau Connection – link.reuters.com/fyg56s)

Steve Jacobs, the fired former head of Sands' Macau operations, Sands China, filed a lawsuit in Nevada in 2010 for breach of contract, and is now working with the U.S. government on its corruption investigations. In a December 27 filing in the case, Jacob's attorney said Jacobs was protected under whistleblower statutes for participating in SEC and DOJ criminal investigations into Sands.

"The United States Government has two ongoing investigations against LVSC and Jacobs is entitled to certain protections as a person cooperating in those investigations," the filing says.

"It is no secret that the United States Securities and Exchange Commission ('SEC') and the United States Department of Justice ('DOJ') are investigating Las Vegas Sands (and its various subsidiaries, including Sands China) related to alleged violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act," it adds.

The SEC and the Justice Department declined to comment.



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