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Court bans chief for life from rivals' reservation homes

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KENT, Conn. ? Bitter feuding among the Schaghticoke Indians led to a court sentence against the chief of one faction that limits his movements on the tribe's 400-acre reservation in the hills of northwest Connecticut.

Richard Velky, "chief for life" of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, is forbidden to consume alcohol on the reservation or come within 400 feet of the homes of its residents, mainly members of the rival Schaghticoke Indian Tribe.

Judge Charles Gill of the Litchfield Superior Court imposed the terms for one year of probation in an Oct. 20 sentencing hearing after giving Velky a six-month suspended jail term. Velky faced a possible maximum sentence of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

A six-member jury convicted Velky Oct. 11 for breach of the peace and third-degree criminal mischief. The charges arose from a scuffle just one year earlier with the wife of the chief of the Schaghticoke Indian Tribe.

The jury acquitted Velky on a third charge of disorderly conduct.

Gary Ritchie, secretary of the Schaghticoke Indian Tribe, called the sentence "a slap on the wrist."

Velky did not return a phone call to his office.

The sentence comes after years of tension between reservation inhabitants and Velky's followers, some of whom live 50 miles to the south in the suburbs of Bridgeport, a decaying industrial city on Long Island Sound. Velky, himself a native of Bridgeport, now lives halfway between in the upscale town of Woodbury. His tribal office is in a small mill city just north of Bridgeport.

The 11 or so inhabitants of the reservation, including Schaghticoke Indian Chief Alan Russell, charge that Velky has harassed them for years with threats, drive-by shootings and the repeated killing of pet dogs.

Their newsletter said the transcript from an earlier trial "details uncontroverted testimony presented by several Schaghticoke Reservation residents, that over a period of years, Velky has harassed, assaulted, threatened, shot at, pulled knives on and even stabbed one of the reservation Indians."

The tensions came to a head on Oct. 7, 2000, after Russell boarded up and padlocked a tribal pavilion that both factions had used for ceremonies and cook-outs. Russell testified that Velky and a nephew drove to the pavilion that morning and started to remove the barriers with a chain saw and crowbar.

Russell said his wife Karen took a disposable camera to photograph the activity while he called the police. At the pavilion, Karen said Velky grabbed her arm at the pavilion and threw her to the ground and then destroyed the camera.

"I was attacked," she said in emotional testimony. "He grabbed my arm and shook the hell out of me, and yelled I better get out of there or he would kill me."

A defense witness, James Velky, said that Karen was "getting in Velky's face" with the camera, saying, "You're on Candid Camera."

Shortly after the incident, a Superior Court judge issued a restraining order against Velky, prohibiting him from contact with the Russells.

For his part, Velky has pushed for federal recognition of his tribe. His ambitious economic development agenda includes a casino, possibly in Bridgeport. He admits to receiving financial backing in the millions from unnamed investors. He has also retained the services of G. Michael "Mickey" Brown, respected former head of Foxwoods Resort and Casino owned by the Mashantucket Pequot tribal nation.

During the past two years, however, Velky's legal strategy has run into the rival group at every turn.

He is pursuing several land claims suits in Federal District Court in New Haven. Last year, the Presiding Judge Peter C. Dorsey said that because of the slow pace of the BIA he would rule himself on whether Velky's group would qualify for federal recognition.

However, in May, Judge Dorsey turned the recognition petition back to the BIA with a timetable for a preliminary ruling by August 2002. June 15, he granted intervener status to the Schaghticoke Indian Tribe. The order made Russell and his members parties to the land claims suits and gave them access to the Tribal Nation petition for recognition.

The Velky petition contains 13,000 pages of genealogical research, and Tribal Nation lawyers asked Judge Dorsey to prohibit the Indian Tribe from using it in its own recognition quest. But in a statement the Indian Tribe said it was allowed to do so, adding "it remains to be seen as to whom the Schaghticoke history belongs to."