Niagara Gazette

Local News

March 25, 2013

Casino-owning tribes betting on help from the US government

(Continued)

Niagara Gazette — The federal money opened the door to scrutiny by the FBI, whose investigation of tribal finances led to the January indictments of the tribe’s treasurer, Steven Thomas, and his brother Michael Thomas, a former tribal chairman. The two are accused of stealing a combined $800,000 in tribal money and federal grants. The tribal council has expressed full confidence in its treasurer.

Mohegan Tribe officials said they took pride in refusing federal grants for years, in acknowledgment that there were needier tribes. But tribal officials said they had relaxed that position as their Mohegan Sun casino, like Foxwoods, has faced growing gambling competition from neighboring states.

“It’s a sign of the times. Everybody is” seeking grants, Mohegan Chairman Bruce “Two Dogs” Bozsum said. “There’s some that we qualify for and it helps us to keep everybody healthy and working. At the end of the day, why shouldn’t we apply for it? If we get approved, it’s always for a good cause, usually health or jobs created.”

Tribal officials said they receive modest grants to contribute to the cost of health care for their 2,000 members.

The tribe that owns the Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort in Michigan, one of the country’s largest Indian casinos outside of Connecticut, has been aggressively pursuing grants in areas including environmental protection and health services as it struggles with the weak economy, according to Sylvia Murray, grants and contracts manager for the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe.

Sam Deloria, director of the American Indian Graduate Center in Albuquerque, N.M., said he has no issue with tribes pursuing grants for which they are eligible. It’s no different, he said, from the state of Alaska participating in federal programs despite the annual payouts to residents from the state’s oil savings account.

As the federal money reflects financial distress for gaming tribes, however, he does worry that their struggles ultimately could have a ripple effect throughout Indian Country and affect the ability of tribes to participate in the marketplace.

“It has got to raise a set of issues that either in the courts, or in the Congress, or in the marketplace, eventually it will get people looking at tribal participation in business in a different light,” he said.

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