Chukchansi Factions Near Agreement

Months of wrangling between three factions of the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians near Fresno may be coming to an end. One of the factions has floated a proposal for a “caretaker” council that could run the tribe and operate the now-closed Chukchansi Gold Casino. The casino was closed by order of a federal judge in October.

Factions of the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians in Central California may be near to an agreement that could lead to reopening the Chukchansi Gold Casino, shut down by state and federal authorities a month ago.

One of the factions, the faction that has actually made the least amount of noise during the many months of dispute, has come forward with a plan that it hopes might bring the other two groups to join in a “coalition.”

Morris Reid crafted the lengthy proposal. He told the Sierra Star last week, “What we are trying to do is put together some kind of agreement to resolve this issue, bring the factions together and work to get a forensic audit and an election done.” He added, “Our conversation with federal officials indicate that an agreement between the various tribal leaders is a key ingredient to assuring the public safety and reopening the casino.”

The proposal remains open to discussion and amendment, he said. “This proposal is just that, a proposal, there is nothing in stone. If they have suggestions we would be willing to discuss those suggestions and amend them together. We all have to agree and come together if we want to resolve this for the people.”

Among its points are the creation of a “caretaker tribal council” and other caretaker board, such as Caretaker Gaming Commission, so that the casino can reopen. The caretaker council would run affairs until a new election can be held, and then 18 days after that. The caretaker council would include six members, with two from each faction.

One important point is to hold a “clean slate election” in which seven “all new” council members would be elected. The last time an uncontested tribal election was held was in 2010.

Another important point is to have a forensic audit.

Reid has contacted the Carter Center and asked it to monitor the election, which it has said it will do if the three factions agree.

Reid commented, “The only way to achieve a true resolution of the tribal dispute is for all of the so-called tribal leaders to agree to be bound by a fair and free election, in which all tribal member over the age of 18 are allowed to vote, and all tribal members who are over the age of 18 and live within 75 miles of the Rancheria are allowed to be candidates on the ballot. That’s why we put together the detailed proposal and I hope the other groups give it serious consideration.”

The tribe’s general council, which is supposed to consist of all tribal members, met and tried to reach a consensus, but there weren’t enough members for it to legally take any action.

Meanwhile the tribal police chief jailed on charges of leading the raid that allegedly illegally “kidnapped” several casino guards and threatened others with assault is out on bail.

John Oliveira paid the $1.25 million bail to the Madera County Superior Court. Oliveira allegedly led the raid on the casino-hotel on October 9 to seize audit materials in order to forward them to the National Indian Gaming Commission, as had been required by the NIGC for the casino to avoid closure.

However, the raid itself, which briefly caused some panic among casino customers, led to a federal judge, Lawrence J. O’Neill, closing the casino after the State Attorney General said it couldn’t guarantee the safety of its patrons and employees.

Oliveira is due in court again on December 19 when the judge will decide whether go forward to trial.

Fifteen men are alleged to have taken part in the raid. Four others remain in jail. They include Tex McDonald, the leader of one of the three tribal factions, whose bail has been set at $2.45 million; Vernon King, whose bail is $1.75 million and Miguel Ramos and Tyrone Bishop, whose bail is set at $500,000. 

The Reno U.S. Marshal’s Office is seeking three others in connection to the raid, identified as Timothy Tofaute, and David Dixon of Sparks, and Brian Auchenbach Jr., of Gardnerville.  The three have military and private security backgrounds. Auchenbach is a former Douglas County deputy sheriff. Tofaute is a former Navy Seal.