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Monday, December 29, 2014
Chukchansi Raid and Closure # 6 Fresno Bee story of 2014
Tribal casino corruption a top story in the Central Valley. Chukchansi embarrassment on display.
6. Chukchansi raid and closure
It was a tense year for the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians, with clashes that forced Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino to close out of safety concerns for visitors and employees.
The year began with two tribal groups battling over control of the Coarsegold casino and tribal offices. The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs ruled in February that its governmental relationship would be with a 2010 tribal council that included members of the Reggie Lewis and Nancy Ayala faction, as well as members of the Morris Reid group, who were suspended by the Lewis/Ayala group after a controversial 2011 tribal election.
By summer, Ayala joined with Lewis, whose group had made amends with Reid’s group. But members on a so-called “unification council” ousted Reid and his followers from council leadership. In August, members of the Lewis/Ayala group took control of the casino by taking over two hotel floors.
In October, the National Indian Gaming Commission ordered the tribe to deliver audits for 2012 and 2013 and threatened to close the casino. Later that week, the McDonald group used members of its armed tribal police force to enter Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino’s gaming commission office to recover audit data. The McDonald forces clashed with security loyal to Lewis and Ayala. During the takeover, about 500 patrons and employees fled, some leaving winnings in the gaming area.
The following day, citing safety issues, the National Indian Gaming Commission and state attorney general closed the casino. Three weeks later, Madera County District Attorney Michael Keitz filed charges against 15 members of the McDonald security forces, including McDonald and fellow tribal council member Vernon King, who remain jailed. The audits revealed that $49.6 million went unaccounted.
Criminal court hearings are scheduled in Madera County Superior Court in January. The casino has not reopened as negotiations continue with the federal government, said Richard Verri, a lawyer representing the Lewis/Ayala group. Meanwhile, investors holding bonds will be increasingly concerned about upcoming debt payments if the casino remains closed.
Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2014/12/28/4305253/fresno-bee-readers-select-top.html?sp=/99/217/&ihp=1#storylink=cpy