Workers shouldn’t be preparing to reopen Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino because they haven’t been cleared by federal and state officials to start work, said a motion filed in U.S. District Court on Monday.
The motion seeks a cease and desist order against the 2010 “interim council” for violating a preliminary injunction issued last year by a federal judge.
The motion was filed by a group known as the tribe’s “distributees,” who maintain there are only 46 adult Chukchansi descendants eligible for tribal membership. Nine hundred people are now on the tribal rolls. The distributees have their own tribal council composed of members of the tribe’s two founding families.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence O’Neill’s order last year said safety was breached on Oct. 9, 2014, when members of the tribal police force representing the Tex McDonald faction overpowered security forces of the then-Reggie Lewis/Nancy Ayala faction to gain access to a casino gaming office to retrieve casino financial records linked to audits. The audits were already overdue to the federal government.
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About 500 patrons and employees were evacuated from the casino. The following day, the National Indian Gaming Commission and state attorney general closed the casino out of concerns for the safety of patrons and employees.
The state and federal governments, according to the motion filed by the distributees’ lawyer, Gary Montana, have not determined that the casino is once again safe, which means the injunction remains in place and workers shouldn’t be allowed in there.
“These activities obviously violate the intent and substantive restraints placed upon the defendant(s) based on the explicit language of the preliminary injunction,” the motion said.
Either we get the casino open, or it’s going to get shut down completely because the bondholders feel they have a money pit on their hands.
Reggie Lewis, 2010 interim council chairman
Luke Davis, chairman of the distributees’ tribal council, said public safety remains a significant problem if the casino reopens.
“If this court allows the casino and hotel to reopen based upon the approval of the National Indian Gaming Commission, who has absolutely no statutory authority to recognize factions in an intra-tribal dispute, the public safety and welfare will certainly be in danger,” he said in a separate document filed in U.S. District Court in Fresno.
The distributees’ motion also said the tribe’s election Saturday was illegal and that the interim council overseeing work at the casino was only directed by the federal government to distribute federal funds to tribe members – not reopen the casino.
In addition, all members of the interim council appointed by the federal government, except Jennifer Stanley, have been sanctioned in one way or another by the alternating factions that have led the tribe since 2011, which means they have no right to serve on the interim tribal council, the motion said.
The motion also said the council is improperly using up to $8 million in tribal gaming funds to pay to reopen the casino.
But Reggie Lewis, the interim council chairman, said his group made a deal with casino shareholders earlier this year to get $35 million to reopen the casino. He said that funds from the casino are not being used to finance the reopening.
If this court allows the casino and hotel to reopen based upon the approval of the National Indian Gaming Commission
Luke Davis, chairman of the distributees’ tribal council
“We are now operating on money that has been advanced to us,” he said.
Bondholders, he said, are getting anxious about the stop-and-start process that has kept the casino from reopening. In addition to the $35 million deal, the tribe owes bondholders $250 million from a hotel refinancing bond in 2012.
“Either we get the casino open, or it’s going to get shut down completely because the bondholders feel they have a money pit on their hands,” he said. “They want it done as soon as possible.”
Distributee families have tried to wrest control of the tribe with lawsuits that refer back to the 1988 reforming of the tribe.
The Ramirez family sued the federal government in 2012 to shrink the tribe and give their family control, but a federal judge said they had no standing since the tribe was restored in the late 1980s. In dismissing the Ramirezes’ suit, U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel said “the Ramirez family now seeks to unwind more than 20 years of tribal governance.”
The motion will be heard in U.S. District Court in Fresno on Nov. 12, the court document says.