Two top leaders of the Shinnecock Indian Nation who were suspended in August amid a tribal probe of some business activities said they would return to their trustee posts Monday after what they described as a "political coup."
In a 60-page packet offered at a tribal meeting last week, and delivered in advance to nearly all homes on the Southampton reservation, trustees Lance Gumbs and Gordell Wright presented a detailed legal defense for the business initiatives, and assured members that "nothing illegal, corrupt or under the table was being done."
Newsday was given a copy of the documents by an off-reservation tribal member.
The document takes issue with the process by which the leaders and two members of the tribe's gaming authority were removed from office, and uses opinions from the tribe's own outside lawyer to show their efforts were authorized by tribal governance rules and did not conflict with a contract the tribe already has with Gateway Casino Resorts.
"In fact, the projects being worked on that would have been presented to the Nation when complete would have benefited the entire Nation in multiple ways far into the future," the document says.
The packet includes legal opinions from the tribe's outside lawyer showing that the suspended leaders had sought, and received on June 6, another legal opinion from the lawyer to make certain their efforts didn't conflict with the Gateway contract. It also states that a draft letter of intent to explore new development projects that had been presented as evidence against the men "does not conflict with, violate or breach the agreements . . . between the Nation and the [tribe's gaming] authority with Gateway."
That same Aug. 17 letter from the lawyer, John Peebles, also notes that Gateway's contract with the tribe remains subject to amendments and approval by the chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission, which it has yet to receive. It raises even more basic questions about the Gateway contract. For example, without that national approval, it remains unclear under what authority Gateway could enforce its contract.
In a prepared statement, Randy King, chairman of the Shinnecock trustees, indicated the probe into the men's activities wasn't complete.
"We've established a process that is fair to everyone, that gives everyone an opportunity to tell their side of the story," he said. "The Nation, as it has on all occasions, will come together, listen to all the facts and make a decision. That process has been extended for additional time."
Tom Shields, a spokesman for Gateway, said the developer had not seen the legal documents and couldn't comment. In a previous statement, Gateway said it "received information from the Nation showing that some tribal members were attempting to pursue gaming developments outside of the contracts between Gateway and the Nation and without the approval of the Nation's membership."
Among the 15 initiatives the men had pursued was a class II gaming facility, including a bingo hall, at the tribe's Westwoods property in Hampton Bays, which the legal opinion cleared, and land acquisitions for residential and nongaming initiatives.
Last week's defense document takes issue with the process by which the members were suspended, and alleged a "political coup" to oust them.
The tribe also suspended Gaming Authority members Phil Brown and Barre Hamp, both of whom, the document indicates, will resume their positions Monday.
In a statement from the returning leaders to Newsday, they said, "This was an attempted political coup orchestrated by outside influence and aided internally by those with personal agendas and not the best interests of the nation in mind."