Feds move in to close lucrative casino in Iowa tribe's leadership struggle

Friday, May 23rd 2003, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

TAMA, Iowa (AP) _ Federal officials put up barricades Friday and shut down a lucrative Indian casino involved in a months-old dispute over who should lead the tribe.

The casino was ordered closed last week by federal regulators, who said the power struggle within the Meskwaki tribe violated gambling laws.

The dispute began last fall when tribal members raised questions about nepotism, misuse of funds, and tribal council meetings held in secret. Recall petitions were issued and approved by the tribal attorney, but the council rejected them.

On March 26, the council was overthrown by a new group of leaders appointed by the eastern Iowa tribe's hereditary chief, Charles Old Bear. The new council took over control of the tribe's government and casino business.

The tribe tried to resolve the dispute with a special election Thursday, and all seven members of the new council won seats. Federal officials had said, however, that it was unlikely the vote would satisfy the Bureau of Indian Affairs or the National Indian Gaming Commission.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bob Teig said Friday the casino was closed at 6 a.m. under a judge's order. He said the closure was temporary.

Employees and fewer than 100 patrons were escorted from the building.

``There were no threats or anything. It was very peaceful,'' said Roger Arechiga, U.S. Marshal for the Northern District of Iowa.

Forrest Lonefight, 23, showed up Friday morning in his aqua Meskwaki uniform shirt for his shift as a valet and was turned away by security guards.

``I just wish they would resolve the problem,'' he said as he walked to back to his car.

Alex Walker, chairman of the ousted council, said the closure on the eve of one of the year's busiest weekends ``is the result of what happens when people don't do what they're supposed to do legally.''

He said the federal gaming commission used the closure to send ``a very clear message to Indian country that illegal activities will not be tolerated.''

The casino, which generates $3 million a week and employs 1,300 people, is critical to the local economy and livelihood of tribal members. The tribe pays members about $2,000 per month in casino royalties, and uses revenue to support schools, health care and housing projects.

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