Judges increases bail on Chukchansi suspects

Madera County Superior Court Judge Matthew Rigby denied a request to reduce bail amounts for five men involved in the Oct. 9, Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino incident.

On Wednesday, Nov. 12, five members of the McDonald faction, including newly hired Tribal Police Chief John Oliveira, requested the judge reduce bail. All five members pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from the Oct. 9, hostile confrontation at the Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino.

Oliveria, who was hired in September to lead the tribes newly manifested tribal police, was charged with six counts of kidnapping and three counts of false imprisonment. He was sought on a $800,000 bail before surrendering to authorities last Wednesday.

Pat Hanley, Oliveira’s attonrey, attempted to persuade Judge Rigby into lowering his clients bail based on Oliveira’s clean record and outstanding services.

Oliveira served six years in Iraq as a mentor/operator with the counter terrorism special operations force, was a former assistant special agent with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, worked as an incident commander during Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina. and is a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

Despite Oliveira’s record and extensive resume, Rigby denied Hanley’s request increasing Oliveira’s bail to $1.25 million. Oliveira has since posted bail and awaits his next scheduled hearing on Nov. 19.

At Wednesday’s hearing defense attorneys argued their clients were not a flight risk and were undeserving of such high bail. The defense argued there was no possibility of another incident since the casino has been ordered closed by the State Attorney General’s Office and the National Indian Gaming Commission on Oct. 10, negating the likelihood of another confrontation.

At a Nov. 6 arraignment Rigby raised bail for Tex McDonald, the chairman of the “on-site rancheria“ council, and Vernon King, the council’s treasurer. McDonald, who has two prior felony convictions, saw his bail raised from $1 million to $2.5 million. Even with King’s lawyer, Jeff Reich arguing King’s limited involvement in the Oct. 9 confrontation, King’s bail was raised from $800,000 to $1.75 million.

When asked about the judges decision to raise bail for three members of the McDonald faction Reggie Lewis, chairman for the Lewis faction, said he supported the judges ruling and wished to see more charges filed against the antagonistic faction.

“I think Judge Rigby did the right thing,” Lewis said. “As far as I’m concerned everyone on that council should be held accountable. They all discussed what was going to happen and knew about it before it happened, that’s conspiracy. I don’t care what tribe or what state you’re in, you’re not allowed to bring guns on casino premises.”

Despite the judges reluctance to lower bail for three members of the McDonald faction, on Wednesday, Rigby lowered the bail for two co-defendants ruling neither was involved in the kidnapping and false imprisonment. Miguel Ramos’ and Tyrone Mark Twain Bishop’s bail was reduced from $800,00 to $500,000.

The not-guilty pleas come after Madera County District Attorney Michael Keitz filed felony charges Oct. 31 against 15 individuals for their involvement in the Oct. 9 armed entry into Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino.

McDonald, King, Bishop and Ramos retured to court Nov. 19 for a preliminary hearing to determine if enough evidence exists for trial.

With Oliveira’s arrest marking the seventh arrest, authorities continue to search for eight men who remain at large.

McDonald assaulted in county jail

According to his attorney McDonald, in a separate incident, was the victim of an assault while in jail at the Madera County Department of Corrections. McDonald suffered a broken jaw and laceration on the right side of his neck. McDonald was present at Wednesday’s proceedings with limited visual markings. The judge agreed to allow McDonald to see a doctor over his injuries.

Tribal benefits and audits

As court room lawyers and judges continue to sort out the convoluted situation that has become Chukchansi members of the tribe remain concerned over the potential lack of funding to pay the tribes per capita benefits.

One member of the tribe, who wished to remain anonymous, said they received a smaller check this month and have heard rumors that this may be the last check sent to tribal members.

The National Indian Gaming Commission received past due audits on Oct. 27. Those audits showed a negative financial deficit of $49.6 million and those deficits have tribal members concerned over the future of the tribe and the casino. Although several supporters of rival factions are claiming foul play and have accused the Lewis faction of siphoning money, federal official said the fund deficit could be a result of several factors and is most likely a measure of tribal assets against liabilities.

Lewis claims much of the problems involving late audits could have been avoided months/years ago if the NIGC had acted on the audit legalities which require late audits be submitted within 120 days of the annual deadline before a letter is sent out informing of a potential closure.

“Where was the NIGC in all of this,” Lewis said. “They have deadlines. How come they let us get two years behind and then started doing something. The requirements say 120 days yet we didn’t get a notice until now.”

Lewis went on to say that he is disappointed that outside agencies and bond holders refused to get involved until it directly effected them effectively allowing the situation to get out of control.

“It really says something about our society,” Lewis said. “We are willing to go along with something illegal as long as we get our cut.”