And WHY, Kamala Harris, is Nobody looking into $50 MILLION DOLLARS MISSING at Chukchansi? WHO has it, who spent it, who didn't pay taxes on it?
Dear Mr. Torngren,
In April of this year, I sent you a letter outlining numerous concerns regarding the possible re-opening of the Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino (CGRC), located on the tribal lands of the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians (PRCI). The concerns I expressed in my correspondence to you on behalf of the onsite, duly elected PRCI Tribal Council, which I represent, involved safety issues and integrity of gaming issues which may arise from prematurely re-opening the Tribe’s casino. To date, I have received no response from your office regarding my correspondence to you.
The weekend before last, the rogue group calling itself the 2010 Tribal Council, led by Reggie Lewis, held a job fair in the CGRC’s conference room to ostensibly pre-screen applicants and gather resumes from potential casino employees. This group has been stating publicly that they are weeks away from re-opening the casino. We know that at least three non-tribal government actions must occur before the casino can legally re-open: the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) must agree to rescind its Temporary Closure Order (TCO) of the casino issued in October 2014, the California Department of Justice must support lifting the federal court injunction issued in Fresno, California, closing the casino pursuant to the State’s petition to the court requesting this action for a violation of the Gaming Compact between the Tribe and the State, and finally, the federal court must lift the injunction it issued in October 2014 shuttering the casino for, among other things, posing a safety risk to the public.
As I outlined in my previous correspondence to you, as far as the onsite PRCI Tribal Council is concerned, the same conditions and level of risk which resulted in the closure of the casino in October 2014 still exists today. The intra-tribal governmental dispute which climaxed in April 2014, with the illegal takeover and occupation of the CGRC by a group led by Reggie Lewis, is no closer to resolution today than it was in 2014. This action by the Lewis group served as the catalyst for the suspected misappropriation of an estimated $49 million in tribal assets, a failure by the CGRC to comply with NIGC gaming regulations, the threatened closure of the casino by the NIGC, and the necessity by this Tribal Council to take steps to restore integrity and accountability in the operation of the casino, protect tribal assets, and avoid adverse action by the NIGC. Prior to any action by the onsite PRCI Tribal Council, this Council and the Council’s Gaming Commission provided documentation of malfeasance in the operation of the casino to federal and state government officials, including the NIGC and the California Department of Justice, imploring investigative action, but to no avail. To date, no investigation has been undertaken by any government agency and no explanation has been offered to the Tribe accounting for the whereabouts of the suspected missing funds. This fact alone is a source of great consternation for members of this tribal community.
The onsite Tribal Council fully supports re-opening the CGRC, but not before the integrity of casino operations can be ensured and the safety of casino employees and patrons can be preserved. To this end, the onsite Tribal Council has presented to the groups involved in our intra-tribal governmental dispute, including the Lewis group, several fair and objective settlement proposals to restore trust, accountability, and regulatory compliance to our tribal government. The Lewis group has dismissed each of these proposals without giving any of them the slightest hint of consideration. The Lewis group, and now the 2010 Tribal Council, have indicated that they are not willing to discuss any sort of resolution to the Tribe’s governmental dispute with any other Tribal faction, including the onsite, duly elected Tribal Council, as a prerequisite to re-opening the CGRC. This action indicates the 2010 Tribal Council’s desire to unilaterally control all aspects of the casino’s operation and the revenues generated for the Tribe from the casino, and return to the pre-October 2014 status quo without any accountability to the Tribe’s membership. A significant segment of our tribal community will not permit this to happen.
The onsite Tribal Council sees a good faith resolution of the intra-tribal governmental dispute as an essential predicate to any negotiation or agreement by non-tribal government agencies to re-open the casino. The safety requirements outlined in the Tribal-State Gaming Compact, and the oversight responsibility of the NIGC as outlined in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), demand that the California Department of Justice and the NIGC require such a resolution before permitting the CGRC to renew operations.
We believe that the NIGC has abrogated its responsibility to provide “for the operation of gaming by Indian tribes as a means of promoting tribal economic development, self-sufficiency, and strong tribal governments” and “to ensure that the Indian tribe is the primary beneficiary of the gaming operation, and to assure that gaming is conducted fairly and honestly by both the operator and players” as outlined in IGRA, by negotiating a settlement agreement with the 2010 Tribal Council which does not require assurance that tribal assets will be protected, the safety of casino employees and patrons will be preserved, and any sort of accountability for the missing $49 million in tribal assets unaccounted for while the casino was under the control of the Lewis group, several of whose members currently compose the 2010 Tribal Council. We pray that the California Department of Justice will not similarly ignore the agency’s responsibility under the Tribal-State Gaming Compact and acquiesce to the demands of the 2010 Tribal Council.
The County of Madera, in not tacitly recognizing the validity of the 2010 Tribal Council or entering into any agreement to provide county services, including those of the Madera County Sheriff’s Department, to the CGRC should the casino be permitted to re-open under the current tense and potentially explosive tribal governmental environment, has placed the safety of county residents above any financial remuneration which might be realized from such agreements. The federal government and the State would be prudent to similarly consider the safety risks inherent in re-opening the casino while the tribal governmental dispute remains unresolved.
The 2010 Tribal Council has taken great pains to give the appearance of reform by supposedly hiring a new casino general manager, a new casino chief operating officer, and appointing a new tribal gaming commission, but the fact remains that essentially the same rogue group of individuals will remain in control of casino operations and the revenues derived from casino operations, and no assurance has been offered to the Tribe that the financial, regulatory, and operational transgressions of the past will not be repeated.
In an attempt to solidify their control of the Tribe’s casino and all governmental affairs, the 2010 Tribal Council recently petitioned the federal court in Fresno to amend the court’s October 2014 injunction by requiring all parties to vacate tribal government offices, which are those currently occupied by the onsite, duly elected Tribal Council. The court wisely denied this request by recognizing the court’s lack of jurisdiction in interfering in tribal government disputes.
You should be aware that if the federal court order closing the casino is lifted, the casino will probably be re-occupied by the 2010 Tribal Council, and that group will probably hire armed personnel to protect what they perceive as their interests. The onsite Tribal Council will continue to provide services and resources to our Tribe’s membership from the tribal government offices located across the road from the CGRC. If the federal court’s order prohibiting armed personnel from occupying areas in and around the casino is lifted, Tribal Council will once again permit the Tribe’s police department to fulfill its statutory responsibility to protect our tribal community. It is also the onsite Tribal Council’s intent to utilize all legal means at its disposal to evict all persons illegally occupying any portion of the Tribe’s casino.
Prudence and common sense dictate that all tribal parties should be compelled to negotiate in good faith to resolve the current tribal government dispute BEFORE the casino is permitted to re-open. It makes no sense to assume that the passage of time since the casino’s closure in October 2014, has tempered emotions, resolved outstanding issues, or magically corrected the circumstances giving rise to the State’s petition to the federal court to suspend operations at the CGRC. Needlessly placing the lives of tribal members, casino employees, and gambling patrons at risk is unwise public safety policy and counterproductive to effective government-to-government relations.
PRCI Tribal Council