The members of the Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians emphatically demonstrated their support of their newly elected Tribal government this week.
On Wednesday, about 100 Tribal Members gathered at the entrance to the Tribe’s Rolling Hills Casino to show that an overwhelming majority of the Tribe supports recent General Council actions on membership issues and the replacement of four members of the former Tribal Council. They were also there to rebuff a threatened effort by the ousted Tribal Council members to take over the Casino.
On the following day, nearly 100 Tribe Members traveled by buses to Sacramento to demand that the Bureau of Indian Affairs recognize the new Tribal Council elected by the General Membership by a vote of 110-5. Chairman Andrew Freeman met with the BIA Superintendent to stress that he represents all of the Tribe Members and intends to carry out their will by supporting the leaders they have elected by 96% of the vote.
The dispute began when Tribal Members confirmed, through testimony and research of a highly respected genealogist, that members of the Pata/Crosby/Lohse family do not meet the requirements of the Tribe’s Constitution for Tribal Membership. On April 12, the General Council suspended members of the Pata/Crosby/Lohse family subject to their due process rights to establish their qualification for Tribal Membership.
The new Tribal Council, consisting of long-time Tribal Chairman Andrew Freeman and four new members elected on April 12 and confirmed on May 10, began investigating possible misuse of Tribal funds by the ousted Tribal leaders. Initial research of bank records and other documents reveal considerable evidence of possible misappropriation of funds. The Tribe has retained a forensic auditor to provide a definitive report.
The new Tribal Council has made every attempt to resolve the membership dispute by rational and peaceful means. The ousted leadership has responded with a cyber attack on the computer systems of the Casino and other Tribal businesses and threats of a forcible takeover of the Casino.
The trip to Sacramento follows another unsuccessful attempt this week by the ousted Tribal leaders to shut down the Casino, which is the Tribe’s primary source of economic development.
Reports and inspections by the National Indian Gaming Commission, the California Department of Justice and local law enforcement have been clear that no violence or other misconduct is occurring on the casino property. The Tehama County Sheriff’s Department is respecting the Tribe’s sovereignty.
“The more they lie, the more it shows how desperate they are,” said Chairman Andrew Freeman. “If they really respected the rule of law as they claim, then they would follow the law and respect the Constitutional acts of the Tribe that removed them from office. It is sad what people do when they get desperate, but it is clear that the suspended members are trying to disrupt business in hopes of derailing the investigation into their alleged embezzlement of millions of dollars from our tribal accounts.”
Here are the facts
- The Casino IS open and safe. Rumors and statements to the contrary are untrue.
- On April 12, when questions were raised by Tribal members about the use of tribal funds, Leslie Lohse, David Swearinger, and Geraldine Freeman abandoned their seats on the Tribal Council, by leaving a General Council meeting before the meeting was adjourned pursuant to the Tribe’s Constitution.
- At the same April 12 meeting, Tribal members voted to elect Latisha Miller, Ambrosia Rico, and Andrew Alejandre to replace the individuals that had abandoned their positions.
- On May 10, over 100 Tribal members attended another meeting to affirm the acts from April 12. At this meeting Natasha Magana was elected to the Tribal Council after Allen Swearinger failed to attend. The vote was 96% in favor.
- On June 9, BIA Superintendent Troy Burdick issued a cease and desist order requiring the suspended members to end their attempt to block the casino entrance. In this letter, Burdick asked the Tribe to settle the dispute pursuant to its laws and procedures.
- Tribal members followed this order by again obtaining the necessary signatures to remove the suspended members from the Tribal Council and presented them to Burdick.
- The Casino remains a safe destination. While the suspended members have organized a protest outside, there is plenty of security and it remains a peaceful demonstration.
- Keeping the doors open is important to the Rolling Hills Casino employees. The Casino employs over 500 team members, most of who work full time with health care benefits and 401k options. The Casino’s turnover is exceptionally low with over 100 original team members employed since 2002.
- Keeping the doors open is also important to the community economically. Each year, over 730,000 guests visit Rolling Hills Casino, bringing with them tourist dollars that benefit the local economy.
- The Casino and the Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians are strong community partners supporting local programs through generous grants and sponsorships. The Foundation donates over $600,000 to community organizations each year to benefit local health, safety and educational programs.
“What saddens me most is that the actions of the individuals who were suspended are not simply against our Tribal members, this affects the casino employees, who are like family to me,” said Chairman Freeman.
Among the most egregious violations of federal, state, and tribal laws uncovered by the investigation so far are:
$10 Million Spent on Private Jet Trips
The investigators found dozens of trips on the Tribe’s private jet from Chico to Sacramento, each one costing thousands of dollars and taking a few minutes to travel less than 90 miles. Additionally, the investigators compared the flight path of the jet to the schedule of the St. Louis Cardinals major league baseball team. The investigation shows that members of the Pata family, which include former Treasurer Leslie Lohse, allegedly used the Tribal jet to fly around the country to watch her son, Major League Baseball pitcher Kyle Lohse, play baseball.
$50,000 Reward for Stolen Jet
The jet remains missing and has been reported stolen with a $50,000 reward for its return. Once returned, the Tribal Council will immediately sell the jet with the proceeds going to support services for Tribal members.
The suspended members admitted to organizing a cyber-attack in an attempt to destroy computer and financial records including the records that are the primary focus of the investigation. While the attempted attack was malicious and destructive, it was ultimately a failed attempt to shut down Rolling Hills Casino. In the end, the attack only worked to solidify support for the Tribal Council as it works to protect the best interests of casino employees, guests and tribal members.
$209,000 in Gold and Silver Purchases
The investigation also revealed over $209,000 in alleged purchases of gold and silver by former Paskenta Enterprises Chairman John Crosby. The checks were allegedly written from a Paskenta Enterprises account set up by John Crosby with only himself and Larry Lohse as the signatories. Paskenta Enterprises Corporation is the Tribe’s business development corporation that was established to benefit all Tribal members. The Paskenta Tribe has never authorized any investments in precious metals, and the gold remains unaccounted for.
Millions in Personal Checks for Mansion, Landscaping, Tennis Court, Swimming Pool and Outdoor Kitchen
Former Paskenta Enterprises Chairman John Crosby purchased a mansion and wrote hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal checks to each other from the Tribe’s business account. So far the personal checks total more than $500,000, which is on top of $838,000 for the purchase of a mansion and $600,000 in home improvement expenses including landscaping, a tennis court, pool construction and an outdoor kitchen for John Crosby.
$5 Million Tribal Personal Lines of Credit
Suspended members, including former Treasurer Leslie Lohse and former Paskenta Enterprises Chairman John Crosby, claim that the deceased former Chairman and Vice Chairman “approved” them having $5,000,000 personal lines of credit to withdraw funds at will from tribal bank accounts.
-from press release