KENT, Conn. - A federal judge has given the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation and
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal permission to investigate
whether either side violated a court order establishing rules of conduct
for those involved in the tribe's recognition process.
In a May 20 ruling, Connecticut U.S. District Court Judge Peter Dorsey said
both the tribe and Blumenthal can conduct "limited discovery" to find out
if the parties to the process have violated the court order prohibiting
them from meeting or contacting officials of the Department of the Interior
without two days' notice to all the parties.
Among those bound by the court rules are the tribe, the town of Kent,
Blumenthal and several defendants in the tribe's land claims for 2,200
acres north and south of its 400-acre Kent reservation.
Dorsey's ruling was in response to a motion filed by the tribe in February
requesting permission to conduct depositions of officials who participated
in a closed-door meeting a month early hosted by TASK - Town Action to Save
Kent - and the extent of TASK's conduct in contacting Interior officials
through its lobbyists. Blumenthal said he would not object as long as he
too could conduct a probe.
TASK is an anti-casino, anti-recognition group that launched a $1.5 million
fund-raising drive last summer to help the town and state overturn the
BIA's January 2004 decision to grant federal recognition to the Kent-based
The federal ruling has been appealed by the attorney general and the town.
The tribe said it wanted to find out if TASK and officials involved with
the group were circumventing the prohibition of meeting Interior officials
by using the citizens' group.
Attorney Eric Wiechmann, who represents the tribal nation, said he will
take a step-by-step approach to his investigation.
"We're not trying to turn this into a political circus. In fact, we've
spent the last year trying to avoid the political circus that we think has
affected the process: so we're going to be doing this responsibly and
appropriately. We'll do it by steps, we'll ask the questions and those may
lead to other people or other areas," Wiechmann said.
TASK's closed meeting was held to introduce TASK members and local
officials to lobbyists from the high-powered, nationally known Washington,
D.C. lobbying firm of Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, which was hired by TASK
to lobby elected officials to aid its cause.
TASK President Ken Cooper said June 4 that he stands by an affidavit he
submitted with the town's response to the Schaghticokes' original motion.
"It was clear in stating that neither TASK nor anyone related to or
representing TASK has had any contact with either the BIA or DOI," Cooper
Since January, U.S. Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-New Britain, has filed a bill in
Congress cosponsored by Republican Reps. Christopher Shays and Robb Simmons
to repeal the tribe's federal recognition; and in May Sen. John McCain,
R-Ariz., held a hearing on the federal recognition process at the request
of Johnson and Gov. Jodi Rell. Two days later, the Interior Board of Indian
Appeals voided the BIA's decisions recognizing the Schaghticokes and the
Eastern Pequots, and sent them back to the bureau for reconsideration.
Wiechmann said he will seek the names of TASK members, donors, the amounts
of contributions and whether any of the parties to the recognition process
Blumenthal said he was pleased with the judge's reciprocal ruling.
"We'll certainly make available any materials or other documents or
information and we'll be seeking information from the Schaghticokes. We
have done no lobbying or other kinds of contact with public officials and
we have no relationship to any lobbying activities by other groups like
TASK," Blumenthal said.
The tribe and the BIA were investigated by Interior's Inspector General
last summer under a request from Johnson and were exonerated of all
allegations of wrongdoing or corruption.
"We think the Inspector General's investigation was complete and accurate
and there was nothing on our part that was improper contact to try to
influence this process. We have nothing to hide so we have no problem if
they want to go through the effort again, but this has all been done,"
Both parties have until Oct. 1 to complete their depositions.