Things on the outside of Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino may look normal. But things behind the scenes are far from it.
"It is a power struggle, and we're no different than other tribes in California," says Reggie Lewis, a former chairman of the Picayune Rancheria, the tribe which owns Chukchansi Casino.
At issue, the leadership of more than 900 members (OP: There used to be 1500 members) and millions of dollars in revenue.
“There's politics, there's history from families in the area. A lot of things combined put us In the position we're in right now,” he says.
Lewis, Nancy Ayala, and four others say their group is in charge, and have set up shop on the 11th floor of the casino's hotel.
"We are there because we were asked by the casino staff and other tribal members to go and do what we did," says Lewis. "We're only following the direction of the people."
The Lewis–Ayala partnership may surprise some, since just last year Ayala accused Lewis of frivolously spending away millions of tribal dollars on hotels, travel and meals.
"We invested five to six million to Chukchansi inc, and received no benefit," she says, in a clip posted on YouTube.
Lewis brushed it off.
"We are trying to do whatever is necessary to work through this and get the tribe back together," he said.
The last elected tribal council is also claiming leadership.
"Throughout the history of our tribe, the council is on the compound. We've been consistently handling the operations. When they came in, they did everything in their power to stop us from doing our job," says Chukchansi Vice–Chair Monica Davis–Johnson. “We provide benefits to elders, distribute the per capita.”
Davis-Johnson says Lewis' group is upset because her council is currently carrying out a forensic audit.
“We're looking at financials. Everyone has to back up their bank statements. No stone will be unturned. Nobody wants this to be completed,” she says.
Davis–Johnson went on to say that that Lewis and Ayala's group has been banned from going into the casino.
"The General Manager at the time was not on the property... they walked in without our approval," she says.
"That's not true at all," says Lewis.
Lewis' group is even accused of going as far as hiring armed security guards to intimidate the other group.
Pictures sent into KMPH Fox 26 News show people who appear to be armed.
Lewis said his officers do carry stun guns.
"There are no guns allowed on the casino side, no matter who they are working for," he said.
While a gun was not used, things got violent Saturday night near the casino grounds.
Madera County Sheriff's Spokeswoman Erica Stuart says a woman threw a rock at a fire engine, as the engine and deputies were responding to an initial call of shots fired.
Stuart says deputies have actually been on site at the casino for weeks to maintain the peace between the two factions— on mandatory overtime.
Some worked shifts even after providing coverage at the Courtney Fire near Bass Lake.
"It's exhausting resources of deputies. It's taxing on deputies and taxing on citizens," she says.
Stuart did not have an estimate on a dollar amount.
When asked about the cost of having deputies on site, Davis–Johnson had no comment.
Lewis said the tribe gives the Sheriff's department more than a million dollars a year even if it doesn't have any calls and that things are, "balancing out now."
Both sides insist it is safe to visit and gamble the casino.
Lewis likened the power struggle to a family dispute, since many of the families in the Picayune Tribe, are related.
“It's safe for people to come up. It's a tribal dispute,” said Davis-Johnson. (OP: Unless your are a fire department and rocks don't hurt you)