The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

May 17, 2012

Tribe attorney accuses AG of conflict of interest

TULSA, Okla. — The attorney for an American Indian tribe suggested Thursday that Oklahoma’s attorney general opposed the tribe’s plan to build a casino in a Tulsa suburb because he’s from the area.

The accusation came after the state rested in its lawsuit to stop the 350-member Kialegee Tribal Town from putting a casino on a 20-acre parcel of land in the city of Broken Arrow.  The tribe’s attorney, Joe Farris, attempted to call Attorney General Scott Pruitt to the stand, but state attorneys quickly objected.

When U.S. District Judge Gregory K. Frizzell asked Farris to provide evidence showing Pruitt was needed as a witness, Farris suggested Pruitt’s office pursued the case because he has ties to the city.

“Is it because he’s from Broken Arrow?” Farris asked the judge. “This is where his people live.”

Frizzell said the court wasn’t going to get involved in that issue and eventually ruled that “we’re not calling lawyers here to the stand.”

The tense back-and-forth came after Oklahoma called its last four witnesses, including some who outlined residents’ worries that the casino’s location next to a church, schools and clusters of neighborhoods would cause more crime, deflate property values and unravel marriages and homes as people became addicted to gambling.

As attorneys argued in court, construction on the casino continued amid protest from thousands of area residents, lawmakers and pastors. Attorneys for the Kialegee will continue their case Thursday afternoon in Tulsa federal court.

Oklahoma is seeking a federal injunction to stop construction at the site, saying the Kialegee don’t have the authority to build there because the site lies within the boundaries of another larger tribe.

The Kialegee, who are based in Wetumpka in southeastern Oklahoma, broke ground on the Red Clay Casino site near the Creek Turnpike late last year and have trucked in several pre-fabricated buildings in recent weeks to temporarily house slot machines.

The tribe plans to open its casino this summer in the trailers and says a permanent facility will be built next year. But it has yet to win approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the National Indian Gaming Commission to allow it to conduct gaming at the site.

The town king, Tiger Hobia, claims his tribe is exempt from a federal review. He also has said the casino would give the tribe its only chance to provide programs for its impoverished members. Sixty-five percent of tribal members are unemployed, he said, and more than 90 percent of those who are employed earn minimum wage.

“The Red Clay Casino project provides our tribe with its only viable opportunity to provide programs for our elders, our school-age children and our infants and to develop a strategy to achieve long-term security for our tribe and finally a way to escape from the crippling effects of poverty,” Hobia wrote in a letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The land is currently owned by two sisters who have attempted to transfer the parcel to the tribe. However, a district judge has refused to approve the transaction, deferring instead to the federal government to determine whether the land can be leased.

Opponents of the casino include church leaders, federal lawmakers and school superintendents.


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