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Schaghticoke seek investigation of reversal

KENT, Conn. -- The Schaghticoke Tribal Nation will file a formal request
with the Senate Indian Affairs Committee to investigate the people and
process involved in the BIA's recent reversal of the tribe's federal
acknowledgment.

The Schaghticoke received federal acknowledgement in January 2004, when the
BIA was headed by former Acting Assistant Secretary Aurene Martin.

After more than a year and a half of ferocious opposition by Connecticut
officials, an appeal by state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a
high-powered lobbying firm's campaign with the White House and
congressional representatives, BIA Acting Deputy Secretary James Cason
issued a reconsidered final determination rescinding both the Schaghticoke
and the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation's federal status on Columbus Day.

It was the first time the BIA has repealed a federal acknowledgement.

The Schaghticokes will ask the Senate committee, among other things, to
scrutinize the role played by U.S. Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-Conn., and her
connections to indicted former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and indicted
former GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff through a $10,000 campaign donation she
received from Americans for a Republican Majority, DeLay's political action
committee.

"We can only ask that turnabout be fair play here with the Senate Indian
Affairs Committee, and that they would hold an investigation to try to find
out why a tribe would be recognized and then have its recognition taken
away," Schaghticoke Chief Richard Velky said.

The committee will also be asked to probe Johnson's relationship with the
powerful Washington, D.C. firm Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, which Fortune
magazine ranked as the nation's top lobbying firm.

According to depositions taken by Schaghticoke lawyers, Johnson recommended
the lobbying firm to TASK (Town Action to Save Kent), a citizens group of
wealthy Kent property owners, which hired the firm to help overturn the
tribe's federal status.

The depositions explore whether Connecticut officials violated a federal
court order that prohibits contact with Interior Department decision-makers
by using TASK's lobbyists as proxies or surrogates.

Both Abramoff and Haley Barbour, the founder of Barbour, Griffith & Rogers
and current governor of Mississippi, contributed to Americans for a
Republican Majority. Barbour is a longtime GOP insider with direct
connections to the White House: he served as White House political director
to President Reagan, senior adviser to the George Bush for President
campaign in 1988 and as chairman of the Republican National Committee.

The Justice Department and the Indian Affairs committee are conducting
ongoing investigations of Abramoff and his partner, Michael Scanlon,
concerning allegations that the two defrauded Indian tribes of more than
$80 million in a scandal involving kickbacks, dubious campaign
contributions and influence peddling.

Documents released during the probe have uncovered an ever-widening and
tangled web of public officials who were drawn into the scandal, which was
centered on decision-making at Interior regarding Indian tribes.

On Nov. 21, Scanlon pleaded guilty to one charge of conspiracy to violate
federal bribery, mail fraud and wire fraud laws. He is cooperating with the
ongoing investigation.

Abramoff was a major GOP fund-raiser who DeLay described as his "dearest
friend." Johnson too is connected to Delay through friendship.
Additionally, e-mails released by the Indian Affairs committee link
Abramoff to Barbour, who allegedly lobbied members of Congress in support
of a Louisiana tribe that was a rival of one of Abramoff's clients.

Both anti-sovereignty and anti-casino, Johnson was one the tribe's most
vocal opponents. Like other state officials, her opposition was based
largely on an objection to more gaming facilities in the state that is home
to two of the world's biggest casinos -- Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun.

Johnson accused the BIA of being corrupt and politically influenced by
tribal lobbyists. She claimed the tribe did not meet the criteria for
recognition and said the BIA had "manipulated regulations" in order to
grant the Schaghticokes' federal acknowledgment.

She demanded that Interior launch an investigation of the BIA and
Schaghticokes; and when the inspector general exonerated the Indian agency
and the tribe of any wrongdoing, corruption or influence-peddling, Johnson
accused him of whitewashing the investigation.

In early 2005, Johnson entered a bill into Congress to terminate the
Schaghticokes' recognition.

Johnson's district includes Kent, where the tribe has a 400-acre
reservation on Schaghticoke Mountain -- all that remains of 2,500 acres
that were first set aside for the tribe in 1736. On Nov. 4, she sent a
letter to her 5th District constituents boasting of her role in overturning
the Schaghticoke decision.

"I have participated in congressional hearings on the tribal recognition
process, and on this case in particular. I have pressed our case in
meetings with the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, who oversees the BIA ...
I have fought so hard to make sure the people of Western Connecticut were
not forced to accept a Las Vegas-style casino against their will," Johnson
wrote.

"It comes as no surprise that she probably had something to do with the
reversal. We always felt and still feel that we should have kept the
recognition that we earned based on the merits of our petition. We know the
reversal was somehow politically infected, in Blumenthal's words. Nancy
Johnson's letter is just more proof of the involvement and the influence
the politicians had on this process," Velky said.

Johnson did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

The Schaghticokes' process was and continues to be regulated under a
federal court order that allows a 90-day period for an appeal of the BIA's
reconsidered final determination. The tribe is preparing to file the appeal
within that timeframe, Velky said.