District Court rules against injunction

March 4, 2014 

A United States District Court Judge Anthony Ishii has denied the request of the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indian and the Chukchansi Economic Development Authority to administer a temporary restraining order against the managerial staff of the Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino filed on Feb. 19, stating the court lacks jurisdiction.

According to court documents dated on Feb. 24, 2014 "in order for a case to be properly before the Court there must be a statute specifically granting jurisdiction....without jurisdiction, the district court cannot decide the merits of a case or order any relief."

The request for a restraining order came days after the Reggie Lewis faction, one of two factions claiming to be the tribes official tribal council, accused casino management of the misappropriate distribution of more than $300,000 of tribal funds to Tex McDonald's faction, claiming to be the acting tribal council.

According to the Lewis faction, and their attorney Richard Verri, money has been diverted from the casino's "tribal cage," located on the casino floor behind the cashier's desk, since Feb. 21, 2013 an placed into accounts unaffiliated with the Rabobank account set up as the tribes chief financial bank account. Lewis claims these mismanagements have cost the tribe millions in the disappearance of unaccounted assets, with the most recent coming in an amount of $300,000 which was supposed to be delivered into a Rabobank account designed to pay investors and/or other tribal entities. Lewis says he believes this money was diverted to the tribal offices where the McDonald faction remains in control.

"We speculate that up to $20 million has been diverted since Feb. 21, 2013" Lewis said. "The $300,000 was not something we made up, that was something that was brought to our attention by the armored car company (Guardia) that was picking up the money. That was when the bank manager contacted us, we didn't know anything about it until then."

According to Lewis the bundles of $20 bills were delivered to the armored car company with a note inside requesting the money be delivered to the tribal offices across the street from the casino, something Lewis claims is a direct violation of tribal law. Lewis claims no money should be taken from the "tribal cage" and delivered to anywhere but the Rabobank account set up to be the casino's chief bank account.

According to Lewis the tribes Rabobank bank account was established to pay Wells Fargo, who is the trustee for investors of the casino and according to Lewis this is the only bank money should be used in accordance with a New York judges ruling.

The McDonald faction, formerly the Ayala faction, is headed by acting chairman Tex McDonald following the recent suspension of chairman Nancy Ayala.

David Leibowitz, a spokesman for the McDonald faction, says the McDonald group continues to run day-to-day operations and are in no way mis-managing funds.

"The on-rancheria tribal council, headed by Acting Chairman Tex McDonald, continues day in and day out to run the government of the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians. That includes every aspect of tribal operations, from providing services to tribe members to paying the tribe's bills to overseeing the Chukchansi Gold resort and casino. Most importantly, the on-rancheria Council has made per capita payments to tribe members for the past year -- something the Lewis faction has never done. While the Lewis faction keeps filing absurd lawsuits and frittering away the tribe's resources, the tribal council continues to lead the Chukchansi Tribe," Leibowitz said.

Leibowitz, says the $300,000 was lawfully placed into a bank account for the tribe to be used by the acting council (McDonald faction) to provide payments to tribal members and pay for services provided by the casino. Leibowitz refused to specify which bank the money was transferred into in a designed move to keep the money from being diverted to the Lewis faction.

"The money is in a bank in accordance to New York Judge Melvin L. Schweitzer order. It will be used to pay the tribe's bills just like the other resources that the on-rancheria duly elected tribal council has at its disposal," Leibowitz said.

However, according to Lewis, the McDonald/Ayala faction is using bullying tactics to maintain their stronghold on the tribal offices located on the rancheria grounds, despite what he calls a clear recognition by the Bureau of Indian Affairs as to the appointment of the members elected during a 2010 election to the tribal council.

On Feb. 11, Pacific Regional Director for the BIA, Amy Dutschke, recommended the tribe revert back to members elected during the 2010 elections, held one year prior to the controversial elections of 2011.

The judge stated in his Feb. 24, ruling the BIA's decision two weeks prior, recognizing the 2010 council, was in regards to government-to-government polices/contracts and in no way included casino and gaming issues.

"The recognition given by the BIA decision, if given immediate effect, is only as to Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDEAA) contracting, not necessarily for Indian Gaming Regulation Act (IGRA) purposes. As such, this courts not convinced that Plaintiffs (Lewis faction) actually represent the tube for all purposes," the court order reads.

The seven members group elected during the 2010 elections include Dora Jones, Chance Alberta, Jennifer Stanley, Nancy Ayala, Morris Reid, Reggie Lewis and Nokomis Hernandez.

Lewis says they are adamant about protecting the interest of the tribe and believe that the BIA's decisions reflects what council should be appointed to run the tribes financial and day-to-day operations. Lewis says he hopes the judge will gain a better understanding of the tribes laws and constitution which would allow him to recognize the Lewis faction as acting tribal council granting him jurisdiction to make a ruling on the injunction against certain tribal members and entities.

Leibowitz and the McDonald faction have argued admittedly since Dutschke's suggestion, contending the BIA does not have authority to decide the acting tribal council.

"The BIA's regional director noted that 'the BIA does not have the authority to determine the tribe's permanent leadership.' The regional director's opinion, since appealed, did not declare a new chairman, nor did it remove the authority of the on-rancheria council that runs day-to-day operations and the Chukchansi Gold resort and casino," Leibowitz said on Feb. 24, in a prepared statement.

Since Ishii's ruling on Feb. 24, that Lewis faction has filed a amended complaint for injunctive relief and hope with more background information the Judge will grant recognition of the Lewis faction as being the acting tribal council, giving the court jurisdiction to make a ruling on the injunction.

The amended complaint was filed on Feb. 28, in the Eastern District of California United States District Court.

In order for a case to be properly before the Court there must be a statute specifically granting jurisdiction ... without jurisdiction, the district court cannot decide the merits of a case or order any relief.

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