New York Court Takes Hands-Off Approach in Chukchansi Leadership Dispute Setting Stage for Federal Officials to Intervene

Dec 13, 2013, 16:52 ET from Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians

FRESNO, Calif., Dec. 13, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Despite overwhelming support by Chukchansi Tribal members for Tribal Chairman Reggie Lewis, a New York Court continues to take a hands-off approach to the Tribe's leadership dispute. With the Court declaring its lack of subject matter jurisdiction over the decision on Thursday, federal officials with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) now have a clear path to determine the governing body of the Tribe.

The ruling by Judge Melvin L. Schweitzer is in line with the Court's previous orders that the New York Court has no legal jurisdiction over the fraud and other violations committed by the Ayala faction on the Tribe's sovereign land.  He stated that his only concern was to see that the Tribe's bondholders are paid.

Attorneys for Chairman Lewis filed the motion hoping that the judge would take action to prevent the abuse and theft of casino revenue that the Ayala faction has repeatedly engaged in through its influence on casino management. But the Court made it clear that despite Ayala taking control of the casino by force in February and hiring a management team loyal to her, the Court's only concern is that the bondholders are paid.

"The New York Court had an opportunity to stop Ayala and her illegal faction from abusing the casino revenue that is meant to benefit all tribal members, but it declined to do so," said Chairman Lewis. "The Court's decision to protect the bondholders does not change the fact that in February Ayala attempted to disenroll hundreds of Tribal members and forcefully removed six Tribal Council members from the Rancheria. The Court's ruling only makes it clearer why the BIA needs to get involved here." 

In urging the BIA to get involved, Chairman Lewis emphasized the illegal and deceitful conduct by Ayala and her small group of supporters over the last few months, "Ayala has repeatedly and falsely claimed in federal filings and to the media that the BIA recognized her as Tribal Chair in May. The truth is that the letter only recognized the results of the 2012 election, but she has intentionally claimed otherwise. Last month she issued a statement claiming that she paid off the Tribe's debt, but instead of using the money to pay the debt, she used it to fund her illegal government and the Tribe remains in default. And now she is claiming that the New York Court has recognized her as the Tribal Chair, when all the Court did was refuse to take a position. The livelihoods of hundreds of Tribal members depend on the BIA taking action, and we remain hopeful that federal officials will see these acts and her plan to disenroll hundreds of Tribal members and finally take action."

The Court's ruling was surprising to many Tribal members who have lost their jobs at the Chukchansi Casino and been threatened with disenrollment by the Ayala faction. Last week Chairman Lewis was re-elected to the Tribal Council along with two other former Tribal Chairs in an election where over 800 Tribal members received ballots and hundreds of Tribal members participated. The election was in stark contrast to the few dozen individuals that participated in Ayala's illegal election on the same day.

The Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians is a federally-recognized Indian Tribe that has lived continuously in California's Central Valley and Sierra Foothills for more than 12,000 years. Today, the Chukchansi Tribe operates the Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino on its ancestral territory in Coarsegold, California. The casino employs over 1,200 individuals making it one of the largest employers in Madera County. For more information on the Chukchansi Tribe go to:


SOURCE Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians