Washington in brief

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Casino racketeer, associates plead guilty

Cloyce V. ;'Chuck'' Choney, retired vice president of the National Indian Gaming Association, called it straight back in 2007 when he informed readers of Indian Country Today that NIGC had uncovered a ''false shuffle'' scam in southern California that extended up and down the West Coast and inland from there, costing 16 casinos from Washington state to Indiana, it turns out, some $25 million.

Among the targeted casinos was the Sycuan Resort and Casino in El Cajon, Calif. ''Fact was, it was the NIGC who uncovered it in southern California,'' Cloney related. FBI assistance resulted in ''one of the largest cheating schemes ever busted,'' according to federal authorities referenced in the Los Angeles Times.

Indictments came down in 2007, but not until April 2 in San Diego did ringleader Phuong Quoc Truong, alias Pai Gow John, and six associates plead guilty to conspiratorial racketeering in the case. Another 12 suspects are awaiting trial.

The ''false shuffle'' swindle required discipline and training. An outline of the operation appeared in the April 3 Los Angeles Times.

''That was a very far-reaching scheme, so it took a while to get it all wrapped up,'' said NIGC Chairman Phil Hogen. ''Not only are we wiser now,'' he added of law enforcement agencies, the commission and casino security details - but more cooperative toward one another as well.

''It takes a few of these ice-breakers to get that to happen.''

Money angles, doubts continue to surround Cobell case

In the same week that a House of Representatives subcommittee on Interior Department appropriations chairman doubted the wisdom of plowing more federal money into an ''accounting'' a court has ruled can never be delivered, muffled doubts emerged on Capitol Hill that the Cobell lawsuit can be settled over the summer at any sum.

Cobell attorneys have estimated $58 billion as the sum the government should disgorge to Individual Indian Money trust beneficiaries, on grounds a trustee must not be permitted to reap the benefit of a breach of fiduciary duty. Long-time observers of the case on Capitol Hill, commenting on condition of anonymity due to the contentiousness of the Cobell proceedings, expressed certainty the government will not part with anything close to $58 billion. Their admittedly uncertain consensus of opinion was that presiding Judge James Robertson, in announcing his intention to settle the case by summer's end, perhaps meant he would get it out of his court by then, either by punting it over to a claims court or by delivering a verdict that is sure to be appealed.

A preliminary hearing on a monetary remedy in the case is scheduled for April 28, with a full-blown trial to begin June 9. Robertson has already found the federal government, through Interior (its delegate agency over the IIM trust), to be in breach of its fiduciary duty toward the injured class of IIM account holders.

On April 3, Rep. Norman Dicks, D-Wash., chairing the subcommittee on Interior appropriations, called Interior's fiscal year 2009 budget request of more than $56 million for IIM ''accounting'' activities a major waste of money, in view of Robertson's decision that an accounting of the IIM trust can never be accomplished. Another assortment of Capitol Hill observers, again commenting on condition of anonymity and again for the same reason, said the remarks may presage a significantly lower-than-requested appropriation for so-called IIM accounting.

Court takes a more expansive view of Indian preference hiring at Interior

A federal judge delivered partial summary judgment March 31 that Indian-preference hiring at the Interior Department must be the rule for all positions there that pertain ''directly and primarily to providing services to Indians.''

Chief Judge Thomas F. Hogan, in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, based his ruling on the Indian Reorganization Act and a canon of statutory construction that interprets law '''liberally' in favor of the Indians, with ambiguous provisions interpreted to their benefit.''

At issue was the phrase ''Indian Office'' in the IRA, interpreted by Interior since 1988 to limit Indian preference hiring to only the BIA within Interior. Interior at large is responsible for many Indian- and Native-specific services beyond the province of the BIA.

In a footnote refuting Interior concerns about applying the well-known canon of construction to the particular circumstances at issue, Hogan cited a Supreme Court precedent decision that ''proper fulfillment of [Congress'] trust required turning over to the Indians a greater control of their own destinies. ... So long as the Indian preference is applied to ensure greater participation by Indians in positions that increase self-governance, the application of the Indian preference will not run afoul of constitutional norms. It strikes the Court that positions outside the BIA that directly and primarily relate to providing services to Indians are properly the subject of the Indian preference.''

The motion for summary judgment came from the plaintiff in the case, Indian Educators Federation Local 4524 of the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO.