The federal Housing and Urban Development Department will continue to withhold money from the Chukchansi Indian Housing Authority after a federal judge ruled the agency did not have to release funds to one tribal faction.
U.S. District Judge David Campbell said he was unable to determine the tribe's rightful leadership in order to release the money. He said such a ruling was not within his abilities.
The leadership question, Campbell said, must be settled by the Department of the Interior's Board of Indian Appeals, which has not issued a decision.
About $3 million in HUD funds are on hold for the tribe's use; its block grant for last year was $954,966, according to court documents.
The HUD money is for safe housing, rental and ownership assistance and building repairs, according to agency officials. The money will be handed over to the tribe once its governance is determined.
The funding is being held up because of continuing discord among tribal factions led by Nancy Ayala and Reggie Lewis.
"It's unfortunate that a federal judge believed he didn't have the jurisdiction to rule in this case," said David Leibowitz, spokesman for the Ayala faction. "The agency's decision to withhold federal housing funds from our tribe is hurting our people, including seniors and children."
But, Leibowitz added: "Still, our council will continue to do everything possible to deliver much-needed services to our more than 900 tribe members, even if the federal government will not fully cooperate."
A motion to have the tribal leadership officially recognized was filed by the faction led by Ayala, which runs the tribal business complex and Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino.
The Ayala faction said the judge was not required to resolve the dispute but should "recognize an interim government."
But the judge disagreed, saying he could not "resolve matters of intra-tribal governance."
The federal Environmental Protection Agency also has withheld more than $300,000 from the tribe until the Interior Department recognizes a tribal governing body, according to a letter sent to the tribe last year.
In May, the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs recognized the December 2012 election; members of both tribal factions were identified as the tribe's leadership.
"The tribe's 2012 election was recognized, not anything that occurred during 2013 when Ayala took over the business complex and casino," said Richard Verri, lawyer for the Lewis faction.
Ayala's faction took over in February after she declared a referendum had enough signatures to change the tribal council membership. Lewis claims the referendum was unconstitutional because it had 14 signatures but needed about 250.
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