Niagara Gazette — Thomas Weissmuller, who was chief judge of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Court until 2011, said that near the end of his tenure the tribal council said they had distributed too much money to members and urged department leaders to pursue more federal grants. He said there was resistance from some council members, who raised questions about the effects on sovereignty, but he was personally encouraged to pursue grants by officials including the tribal chairman, Rodney Butler.
Weissmuller said he was not comfortable seeking such assistance for the tribal court system because most of the issues it dealt with were related to the casino, which is essentially a commercial enterprise.
“A billion-dollar gaming enterprise should fully fund the tribal government,” said Weissmuller, who said that he was forced out of the job by tribal officials who told him he did not appear to have the tribe’s interests at heart on other matters.
The reversal of fortunes for the Pequots began around 2008, when Foxwoods completed a major, costly expansion with the 30-story MGM Grand hotel and casino just as the recession began to show its teeth. The following year the tribe defaulted on debt exceeding $2 billion.
Since then, the tribe of some 900 people in rural southeastern Connecticut has ended its member stipends. The Pequots have kept some other benefits in place, covering payments for members pursuing higher education and offering supplemental pay for tribal members taking entry-level jobs at the casino.
The federal grants provided to the Pequots through the Interior Department and its Bureau of Indian Affairs, meanwhile, rose from $1 million in 2008 to $2.7 million in 2011, with partial records for 2012 showing $1.7 million in grants for the year. Grants provided to the Pequots through the Indian Health Service, a division of Health and Human Services, increased gradually from $1.7 million in 2008 to $1.9 million in 2012. That money is to support health care services such as community health, nutrition, substance abuse treatment and pharmacy services.