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Tribe’s schism threatens casino

VALLEY CENTER, Calif. – The latest meditation attempt by BIA officials Oct. 12 to resolve a rift between members of a tribal council has failed, possibly threatening the legality of its lucrative casino operations, a senior BIA official said.

As it stands, the BIA does not recognize the split tribal government of the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians in inland San Diego County, said James Fletcher, superintendent of the Southern California Agency of the BIA.

“If they don’t come to an agreement there may be far reaching impacts,” Fletcher said. Pressed on whether the tribe’s Valley View Casino was at risk, Fletcher said, “The potential exists, yes, but I don’t know how high at this point.”

Fletcher advised both factions in August that he could not recognize either as the legitimate tribal government because they were holding separate meetings, suspending each other’s members from the council and resisting working out their disagreements. One of the factions voted in replacements, according to a BIA letter to the tribe.

The council rift centers on the disenrollment of a family because of questions concerning their Indian ancestry, Fletcher said.

About 80 people’s tribal rights were suspended, including payments from casino revenues.

The 300-member tribe currently operates a 1,750-slot machine casino opened in 2001 and its one of 10 in San Diego County. It broke ground on a 160-room hotel on Oct. 20, joining the ranks of the county’s marquee Indian gaming venues that have opened hotels.

The rift pits San Pasqual Chairman Allen E. Lawson and Vice Chairman Robert Phelps. Lawson did not return phone calls seeking comment. Vice Chairman Robert Phelps could not be reached for comment. Both are now being referenced as “spokesman,” for the tribe by the BIA.

Fletcher said he was waiting on the BIA’s genealogy analysis on the dissenrolled family to help him make a decision on whether to recognize one of the factions.

“At some point I am going to be asked to make decision. I have a choice not to recognize anybody,” Fletcher said.

“Only a (federally) recognized tribal government can conduct gaming and receive grants. If it is not, then it goes away.”