COARSEGOLD, CA (KMJ) – A dispute breaks out over Chukchansi Tribal Leadership with another takeover attempt.
The Madera County Sheriff’s Office confirmed to KMJ’s News Partner FOX26 News it had been called to the scene early Monday morning for a standoff underway outside the tribal council offices for Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians, the tribe that operates Chukchansi Casino.
“Their security officers are pointing guns at us,” says Craig Chenot, who told FOX26 News he was stationed outside the offices with others.
Chenot says he is part of the rightful leadership known as the “Featherstone Faction,”
He says Sunday or early Monday morning a rival group — called the “Ritz Faction” went into the tribal council offices — and carried out a takeover.
“I’m dealing with the Sheriff here – I’m dealing with the corporal, right now. I want to see this enrollment get fixed, and all the money – everybody’s stealing the money,” said Chenot to KMJ.
Chenot says the rival group, known as the “Ritz Faction” also hired a security firm, that brought tow trucks to take tribal vehicles off the grounds.
As of 2:54 pm on Monday, Chenot says the rival group was also removing files from the offices.
Chenot says the Ritz Faction has been off the reservation for seven years, and it boils down to a power grab.
Below is a statement from the Tribal Council of the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians concerning Monday’s event.
Today the Tribal Council instructed a team to enter and vacate the declining buildings of our former Tribal Government Offices. More than anything, it is a safety concern as the buildings have structural issues and were never intended for personal use. Moving forward, there are plans to remove the current damaged structures, making room for future growth opportunities for all Tribal Members and the adjacent Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino.
This is the most recent dispute in a history of power struggles for the tribe.
A federal judge had ordered the shutdown of Chukchansi Casino in 2014 following a violent confrontation between two rival groups. At that time, 15 people were charged for possessing and using firearms during alleged crimes, including the leader of the tribal faction, Tex McDonald.
McDonald accepted a plea deal in January of 2015, and was given 485 days in jail. The judge gave him credit for time he’d already served.
The Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino closure left more than 1,300 without a job.
The casino reopened more than a year later, after it received permission from the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC).
Click to listen to the report by KMJ’s Liz Kern: