Tigua tribal leader says he's moved beyond his criminal history


AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - The newly elected leader of the Tigua Indian tribe in El Paso, where tribal members are fighting charges of illegal gaming from the Texas attorney general, has a criminal history spanning nearly two decades.

Tigua Gov. Frank Paiz's criminal record dates to when he was 17 and ended about four years ago after he allegedly punched his common-law wife in the face with a beer can, the El Paso Times reported April 4.

Paiz said he has since turned his life around.

''The pueblo was aware of who I am and my background,'' Paiz said. ''My people believed in me and gave me a chance to help the tribe move forward.''

Paiz, 37, previously the tribe's sheriff, became governor in January after an election in which more than 100 male members of the 1,600-member tribe voted.

His tribe is fighting charges of illegal gaming from Attorney General Greg Abbott as it tries to find ways to generate much-needed revenue from the once-vibrant Speaking Rock Casino. When the casino was fully operating, it was a $60-million-a-year enterprise with 800 employees.

Since 2002, Tigua leaders have been lobbying state and federal lawmakers to allow gaming at Speaking Rock. The Tiguas offered casino-style games at Speaking Rock until then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn sued the tribe for violating state anti-gaming laws.

In trying to revive its games, the tribe lost millions to disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who made false promises to help it in Congress.

Last year, the Tiguas suffered another blow when state lawmakers again rejected the tribe's pleas, and during a heated debate a Dallas-area legislator called tribal members criminals.

In March, Abbott alleged that the tribe's cash payout games at Speaking Rock are illegal. The tribe began offering the cash payouts in January after Paiz became governor. Abbott wants a judge to stop the slot-machine-style games, which the tribe started offering last year, or allow the state to monitor activities at the gaming center.

The tribe contends the games are legal.

Meanwhile, Paiz has declined to talk in detail about his criminal history, saying that he was too busy and that people wouldn't understand.

The El Paso Times reported that court records and police documents show Paiz was charged with offenses including theft in 1987, driving while intoxicated in 1992 and assaulting a police officer in 2001; that he repeatedly failed to comply with the terms of his probation; and that he spent at least a month in jail. He was also charged with domestic violence, though the case was dismissed, and he was ordered to take anger management classes.

Paiz said he has reformed. He got a job working on gaming machines at Speaking Rock and earned an associate degree in automotive technology from Western Technical College.

''I am committed and will do my best to make my people proud,'' Paiz said.

On April 2, after the El Paso Times contacted Paiz about his record, a local television station reported that Paiz said he hoped the information would not damage the Tiguas' relationships with other tribes or lawmakers.

''I'm a different person,'' he told reporters.

Tribal Lt. Gov. Carlos Hisa said that with help from the tribe, Paiz has changed his life and proved himself a worthy leader.

''We believe in giving people second chances,'' Hisa said.

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