Tribal disputes continue with latest lawsuit

editorial@sierrastar.comFebruary 25, 2014 

A federal lawsuit involving the Chukchansi Economic Development Authority filed in U.S. District Court Feb. 19, claims more than $300,000 has been illegally distributed to a faction claiming to be the acting Tribal Council.

Reggie Lewis, chairman for the Lewis faction claiming to be part of the United States-Recognized Tribal Council, has filed a lawsuit against The Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino management team for illegally distributing funds to the McDonald/Ayala faction who is currently running day-to-day operations at the Casino.

The lawsuit, filed last week with the United States District Court of the Eastern District of California is asking for immediate recognition of the Lewis faction as the acting United States-Recognized Tribal Council.

According to Lewis, his faction is seeking injunctive relief from the U. S. District Courts to prevent further distribution of funds to what Lewis is claiming to be a rogue Tribal Council consisting of acting Chairman Tex McDonald.

According to documentation filed on Feb. 19, the "Plaintiffs seek injunctive relief from the court to prevent all persons, including....Chukchansi Gold and Resort and Casino's management, and certain unidentified individuals and entities, from making, directing, or authorizing, in any fashion, any and all Tribal government distributions of Casino revenue to any person or entity that is not recognized by the United States as the tribe."

Lewis says it is his understanding that the Ayala/McDonald faction has failed to deposit a some of more than $300,000 into the tribal bank account as was agreed on to ensure timely bond payments for the casino and financial distribution to the tribe's 900 members.

"It is unfortunate that a small group of individuals continue to defy the will of an overwhelming majority of tribal members and the recognition of the federal government," said Lewis in a prepared statement. "There is only one tribal council recognized by the United States and stealing money from the tribe will not be tolerated."

The lawsuit comes days after the BIA's Regional Director Amy Dutschke released and advisement letter stating her recommendation to revert back to the 2010 tribal council for the purpose of dealing with the United States on the bases of government-to-government relations.

The prepared statement from Dutschke recommended "the tribal council elected during the 2010 elections will be recognized as those temporarily allowed to conduct government-to-government business, and the BIA will request the council revert back to the 2010 elected council of Nancy Ayala, Reggie Lewis, Dora Jones, Chance Alberta, Nokomis Hernandez, Jennifer Standly, and Morris Reid."

The oppositions council chairman McDonald, in a prepared statement signed by the on-rancheria council, called the accusations made in the suit filed by attorney Robert Rossette, on behalf of the Lewis council, "is absolute fiction."

"There has never been a BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) ruling that recognized the tribal council led by Reggie Lewis as the only governing body authorized to act on behalf of the tribe," McDonald said. "The BIA's regional director (Dutschke) noted (Feb. 11) the BIA does not have the authority to determine the tribe's permanent leadership, and the director's opinion did not declare a new chairman, nor did it remove the authority of the on-rancheria council that runs the day-to-day operations and the Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino."

According to Lewis in a prepared staement the group felt "the lawsuit was necessary after the casinos depository bank notified the BIA recognized tribal council that casino management delivered two bags of cash containing over $300,000 to the illegal faction on Feb. 13, 2014 two days after the United States' BIA decision. This cash delivery not only violates proper handling procedures of casino revenue required by federal, state and tribal law, but also is in direct contradiction to the Feb. 11, 2014 BIA decision recognizing Lewis as the Chairman of the Chukchansi Tribe. The February 11 decision recognized the tribal council led by Reggie Lewis as the only governing body authorized to act on behalf of the tribe. Under federal law, the Board of Directors of the casino mirrors the tribal council, making the casino management's payment to the illegal faction a violation of federal law."

According to McDonald the lawsuit holds little truth and should be dismissed as a ploy to gain control over the tribal council that in already on-site.

"There was no illegal $300,000 cash payment made to the on-rancheria council that runs the tribes day-to-day affairs," McDonald said. "The BIA's opinion changed nothing about the day-to-day operation of the Tribe and its casino. As for the latest Lewis lawsuit, all it will do is cost the tribe thousands of dollars more in legal fees for Lewis' team of lawyers — before its likely dismissal be the federal court."

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