Attorney General Sues to Halt Armed Inter-Tribal Warfare over Northern California Casino

Monday, June 23, 2014

California officials have limited authority when it comes to overseeing the activities of sovereign Indian tribes in California, but decided it was time to get involved when warring factions faced off with weapons for control of a lucrative casino.

State Attorney General Kamala Harris  filed a lawsuit last week in U.S. District Court in Sacramento against the 216-member Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians to “prevent an imminent threat to the public health and safety” from the fight over control of the Rolling Hills Casino off the I-5 Freeway in Northern California.

The state wants the court to find the tribe’s gaming activities to be in violation of its compact with the state and grant an injunction and temporary restraining order preventing any faction of the tribe from taking over the casino.

The lawsuit comes just one week after the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior issued an administrative cease and desist order telling both sides to the dispute to put their guns down after “the security force of one faction had barricaded the entrance to the Casino and that armed agents of the other faction covered the perimeter of the Casino property.”

Paskenta entered into a gaming compact with the state in 1999 and has been raking in millions of dollars a year ever since. Every adult member of the tribe, whose numbers are now in dispute, was paid $54,000 a year and their kids were the beneficiaries of trust funds and scholarships.

An intertribal dispute erupted in April when members attending the annual General Council meeting reportedly voted to suspend 76 members, whom they claimed had no real familial ties to the Paskenta Band, and tossed four members off the Tribal Council. He replaced former FBI agent John Crosby and two others on the council.

In May, tribal Chairman Andy Freeman accused the ousted members of embezzling nearly $10 million. He demanded to know the whereabouts of the tribe’s $3 million jet and 62 ounces of gold.

Freeman said Crosby, who was Economic Development director, improperly took $1.4 million from tribal accounts to pay for his home, a swimming pool and other remodeling. In mid-May Freeman laid out his case to the FBI. He said a forensic accounting firm had reviewed 12 years worth of financial records and found millions of dollars of misappropriated money.

On June 9, armed members of the casino’s private security force blocked the road leading to the casino. They were confronted by 30 armed people in vehicles marked “tribal police.” That day, the Bureau of Indian Affairs issued its cease and desist offer, putting Freeman’s plans on hold.

Bureau Superintendent Troy Burdick said Freeman and the new tribal leadership violated federal law by taking over the casino and made clear the agency’s recognition of the original council leadership until the matter was resolved.

That could take a while. While the federal court mulls over the state’s lawsuit, Freeman’s appeal of Burdick’s order is headed for bureau Regional Director Amy Dutschke. Any decision by Dutschke could then be appealed to the Interior department’s Board of Indian Appeals, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Freeman’s attorney, Richard Verri, told the newspaper, “Those appeals sometimes take a decade.”

–Ken Broder   


To Learn More:

Federal Judge Bans Firearms from Casino, Tribal Lands in Paskenta Nomlaki Fight (by Rich Greene, Red Bluff Daily News)

Tense, Armed Standoff at Indian Casino (by Elizabeth Warmerdam, Courthouse News Service)

Northern California Tribe Splits into Armed Camps over Casino Profits (by Stephen Magagnini, Sacramento Bee)

State of California v. Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians (U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California) (pdf)

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