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Attacks on tribes in East give politicians red faces

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Anti-tribal forces in New York and Connecticut face a debacle as embarrassing as the reaction to the Washington state GOP platform resolution.

Connecticut town officials, led by the state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, are preparing for a two-day public meeting with the BIA in August to oppose pending federal recognition of two state tribes. But their position is overshadowed by extreme statements from the author who started the current flap.

In a recent column in the New London (Conn.) Day, Jeff Benedict advocated "some creative tampering with existing state and federal laws" to remove federal recognition from the Mashantucket Pequots and to seize proceeds from their lucrative Foxwoods Resort and Casino. Benedict wrote 'Without Reservation' (HarperCollins), a book that argues (but fails to prove) that leaders of the Mashantucket tribe "aren't really Pequots."

At the same time, an anti-Mohawk ad campaign traced back to Atlantic City casino mogul Donald Trump is under investigation by the New York Temporary State Commission on Lobbying, the Albany (N.Y.) Times Union reports. Several papers report that the commission is recommending charges against Trump. He is accused of violating lobbying law in his support of a recently withdrawn bill limiting state gaming compacts for off-reservation Indian casinos.

Trump's lobbyists were widely seen as backing the bill in an attempt to block a proposed St. Regis Mohawk casino in the Catskills, a potential competitor to his Atlantic City holdings. Trump is telling friendly reporters the value of his personal efforts for the bill didn't pass the $2,000 threshold that would have required him to register as a lobbyist. He has not replied to questions.

Of potentially greater embarrassment, however, are allegations that Trump's agents supported inflammatory ads from February to June by a Rome, N.Y., group called the New York Institute for Law and Society.

One actually called on prospective Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush to reject New York Gov. George Pataki as a possible vice presidential candidate because of Pataki's support of new Indian casinos. "Governor Pataki persists in these negotiations," said the ad, "despite one tribe's record of drug trafficking, money laundering, smuggling illegal immigrants into the United States and violence," a reference to criminal cases against individuals, but not the tribal government, on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation.

A investigation earlier this year by the Albany Times Herald-Record found that the Institute for Law and Society was incorporated in Delaware by a Virginia lawyer linked to Roger Stone, the Republican lobbyist who ran Trump's abortive presidential campaign earlier this year.

Tom Hunter, head of the institute, admitted to Today that some casino interests supported his efforts, although he refused to name names. "I'm not going to deny that some of these people involved in gaming are supportive of our group."

Current reports show the institute and Stone are potential targets of the lobbying probe.

The same reports say the commission recommended charges against Arthur Goldberg, president of Park Place Entertainment, the world's largest gaming company, and the partner in the St. Regis Mohawk casino. Goldberg, say the reports, failed to register as a lobbyist within the required time limit after his successful efforts to kill the gaming compact bill.

Although no law-breaking is at issue in Connecticut, Benedict's strongly worded column is bound to embarrass the senior Democratic politicians who jumped on the band-wagon started by his book. Officials in towns bordering Foxwoods seized on Benedict's charges of irregularities in the federal recognition of the Mashantucket Pequots. They are campaigning against pending recognition of two nearby tribes, the Eastern Pequots and the Paucatuck Eastern Pequots.

In a July 14 meeting in the central Connecticut town of Shelton, the Foxwoods neighbors joined forces with towns facing land claims from two other Connecticut tribes, the Golden Hill Paugussetts and the Schaghticoke Tribal Nations. At the meeting, Attorney General Blumenthal urged the 10 towns to seek intervener status in the recognition process.

The state already recognizes the tribes in question, which hold reservations dating from the 17th century, although greatly reduced in size. Some of the petitions reflect deep tribal divisions, however. Town officials say one of their concerns is that state recognition will give the tribes a shortcut to federal status.

The Connecticut towns are also split, however. Bridgeport, a depressed coastal industrial city which looked for an economic rebirth from an Indian casino, was notably absent from the Shelton meeting.

Attorney General Blumenthal and U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd, Democrat, have positioned themselves at the head of the anti-recognition drive. In a July 14 letter to Kevin Gover, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs, Blumenthal demanded that Gover withdraw the findings in the Eastern Pequot and Paucatuck Eastern Pequot petitions and remove himself from consideration of all the pending Connecticut tribal petitions.

Gover's prior position as a lawyer for the Golden Hill Paugussetts put an "incurable taint of ... actual or apparent conflict of interest" on these cases, wrote Blumenthal, and even on unrelated cases such as the Yuchi Tribe, which raised relevant issues of interpreting regulations.

In response to these pressures, the BIA has scheduled a public meeting on August 8 and 9 at its Reston, Va., office. The meeting, said a recent BIA release, will "address technical questions that have been raised by state, local and tribal officials" about the preliminary approval of the two Pequot petitions.

Blumenthal, Dodd and the local officials will face the question themselves, however, whether they go along with Benedict's extreme positions on the Mashantucket Pequots.

"What do we do with a billion-dollar Indian casino that employees 12,000 people, yet is built on land that was not intended to be Indian land and run by people who aren't really a tribe?" Benedict's asked in his July 15 column.

He answered that the Pequots should be returned to state-recognized status, that their tribal land be cut in half, that state, local and federal taxes be imposed on Foxwoods and that a portion of Foxwoods proceeds be confiscated for redistribution "to needy tribes that will never benefit from casino gambling.

His conclusion: "Yes, I realize this will require some creative tampering with existing state and federal laws, as well as some exceptions to the rules. But the Pequots are already an exception to the rule, and the product of significant tampering with laws."