IONE, Calif. - The hereditary leader of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians traveled to Washington, D.C. last week to seek a congressional probe into whether BIA officials in California acted improperly to pad the tribe's roster with BIA officials and their relatives.
The Associated Press and the San Francisco Chronicle report that the Interior Department and the Congressional General Accounting Office announced they were launching investigations into the matter. The hereditary leader, Nicholas Villa and his wife Joan are also implicating a high powered Republican operative in the matter.
At the heart of the matter was a decision by the BIA's Pacific Regional Office to open up tribal membership to 465 people who were unrelated to the 70 original tribal members. Several of the new members were directly related to BIA officials at the Pacific Regional Office.
Though there has been no attempt to dis-enroll the original members, as has happened in other similar cases they have been completely shut out from the tribal leadership.
Complicating matters is a potentially lucrative gaming deal that was recently signed off on by the government of the small hamlet of Plymouth and has been vociferously opposed by the government of Amador county, where Plymouth sits.
The casino is particularly contentious in the dispute because the total tribal members, including BIA officials who oversaw the elections and their relatives, stand to benefit from the project.
There have been threats of a recall by Plymouth residents who oppose the casino and threatened action by the Amador County Board of Supervisors who similarly have expressed dismay.
Nick and Joan Villa as well as most of the original 70 members of the tribe have also expressed their own opposition to the casino.
Apparently it was BIA official Amy Dutschke who approved the elections that saw four of her relatives elected to the tribal council, none of whom were part of the original 70-member tribe.
"Basically, what you have here is the local BIA office inserting themselves into the internal operations of a tribe, something that they claim is against their policy," says Joan Villa.
"They are making Indian law as they go along," said one source close to the issue who asked not to be identified.
Joan Villa claims that Dutschke is actually a member of a defunct nearby tribe at Mt. Aukum, near Fiddletown and does not dispute that they are local Indians but said that they are not members of the Ione Band.
The current tribal administration promised a press release that was not delivered before press time and offered no comment on the phone. Tribal chairman Matt Franklin did not return phone calls.
However, Franklin said in an Associated Press article that his faction was recognized at the same time the Villa's faction was, something Joan Villa vehemently denies. The Associated Press article also said Franklin promised to provide documentation to back up this claim but has not done so for several weeks.
Similarly Dutschke has steadfastly refused to return calls from Indian Country Today or any other source.
The Villas are also claiming that Republican operative Roger Stone has gathered investors for the casino deal. Stone, who has been involved in several Republican campaigns, was described as a "party hatchet man" by one source. Perhaps most notably, he organized several mini-riots at Florida election offices after the disputed 2000 election that used Republican congressional staffers to pretend they were outraged local citizens and disrupt recounts.
Stone has also drawn harsh criticism from several Republican leaders including former Senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole.
Joan Villa claims that Stone gathered together 25 investors in Minnesota who chipped in $25,000 a piece to back the Ione casino venture.
Also, Karen Ernst, an FBI spokeswoman for the Sacramento field office said that they have not officially opened an investigation but added, "It would be fair to characterize it (the situation) to say we are looking into the matter on a preliminary basis."
BIA officials in Washington confirm that there is an investigation but will not release comment until their investigator releases a report.