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The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs has finally stepped into the feud over control of the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians and its lucrative Highway 41 casino by identifying Nancy Ayala as the tribes leader.
No so fast, said an attorney for one of Ayalas two adversaries, Reggie Lewis, who also wants control of the Madera County tribe and its estimated haul of $9 million a month from slot machines and table games.
Robert Rosette, who represents Lewis, said Monday that the BIA only ruled that the Dec. 1 tribal election was valid; it did not establish Ayala as the current tribal leader.
The BIA puts us one step closer to resolution, Rosette said.
A Fresno federal judge will rule this week who is the rightful leader.
For years, factions led by Ayala, Lewis and Morris Reid have vied for power. Though the dispute has exploded in several violent skirmishes, including a riot in February 2012, the BIA took a handsoff approach.
In March, dispute over who are the rightfully elected tribal council members led Rabobank to freeze the tribes bank account. This put the tribe at risk of defaulting on roughly $310 million in bonds for Chukchansi Gold Resort Casino near Coarsegold.
Ayalas group blamed Lewis and his faction for the delay in bond payments. Under Ayalas leadership, the tribe figured out a plan to make bond payments, but members still fight over whos in charge. District Court in Fresno, asking the court to recognize it as the rightful leaders. Federal Judge Michael J. Seng is mulling over the issue.
That same month, the BIA got involved when Reid submitted grant proposals on behalf of the tribe. In a May 17 letter to Reid, the BIA informed him that his faction does not represent the tribes governing council.
In the letter, the BIA ruled that the Dec.
Because Ayalas supporters include Brechbuehl, Wynn and Sargosa, she has a fourvote majority to run the tribe, she contends. Alberta and Bushman support Lewis.
Monday, Reid said he has filed an appeal to the BIA ruling. He also said he is seeking legal standing in the tribes federal case.
We are still key players, said Reid, who has been involved in tribal leadership and upheavals since the 1990s when the Chukchansi casino was first planned. It opened in June 2003.
Meantime, Ayala called Lewis faction a rogue group that has set up an unconstitutional shadow government in a north Fresno office. Her group has tribal meetings in an office near the casino.
Obviously, the Chukchansi Tribal Council welcomes this landmark decision from the Department of Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Ayala said. We need to end the months of confusion surrounding control of our tribe for the sake of our people, who need us to concentrate on protecting the tribal services they rely on, and for the sake of our casino, which needs clarity in order to do business.
But Rosette said Ayalas leadership remains in dispute.
He pointed to Ayalas recent attempt to get a federal court order to uphold a tribal court ruling that prevents Lewis from withdrawing the tribes bank funds. The temporary order also would have made sure Rabobank made timely payments to bond holders.
Judge Lawrence ONeill last week denied the motion, saying this court finds that it is more likely than not that the Ayala Tribal Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the underlying dispute with Rabobank.