Shinnecock tribe sacks 4, cites secret business deal
The Shinnecock Indian Nation's removal of four top officials from their posts this month followed challenges by the tribe's casino backer to several undisclosed development projects allegedly being negotiated with other firms, according to documents shown to Newsday.
Among the numerous projects and land parcels being explored by a small group of tribal officials and a businessman were the construction of a new 20,000-seat Nassau Coliseum in Hempstead and a possible gaming facility at the Farley Post Office development in Manhattan, according to the documents.
Contending that the outside projects would "circumvent" its contract, Gateway Casino Resorts, the Detroit-based developer that has bankrolled the tribe's federal recognition efforts with the aim of opening casinos in the state, detailed the alleged plans in a series of letters to the tribe and to the outside companies last month.
Among the parties that received them: Och-Ziff Real Estate Acquisitions and Global Capital Markets Advisors, according to copies of the letters. A spokesman for Och-Ziff declined to comment. Global didn't return messages seeking comment.
On Aug. 1, the tribe informed trustees Lance Gumbs and Gordell Wright that they were being removed from office pending an investigation into unspecified business activities.
Gumbs has said he would fight the action, and denied any wrongdoing. He declined to comment last week. Wright hasn't returned phone calls seeking comment. Two members of the tribe's gaming authority also were removed, and a third tribal member was ordered to cease business activity in the tribe's name, several tribal sources said.
In a statement, tribal chairman Randy King said: "Shinnecock Indian Nation is in partnership with Gateway and after extensive reviews this partnership was reaffirmed overwhelmingly. We'll move forward as a nation in a way that benefits all."
Gateway, in a statement, 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. Following the receipt of this information from the Nation, Gateway informed third parties involved in these efforts of Gateway's exclusive contractual agreements with the Nation and the Nation's Gaming Authority."
In their letters, Gateway lawyers pointed to the company's exclusive contract with the tribe to develop and manage the nation's casino and "ancillary facilities." Gateway said it has spent more than $60 million on the Shinnecock initiatives to date, and said it expects gaming revenue from just one primary facility to exceed $1 billion annually.
Documents presented to tribal members by Gateway charge that the group was planning a project called Nassau Town Center, for which it would finance and build a 20,000-seat arena that would eventually house a 500,000-square-foot casino operated by the tribe's gaming authority.
Och-Ziff and Global were expected to provide the funding for the coliseum project, which would not have required county or Islanders' funding. It would also include retail, housing and hotel facilities. An Islanders spokesman could not be reached for comment. Brian Nevin, a spokesman for Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, declined to comment.
According to one Gateway letter to Och-Ziff, tribal members had planned to form a group called the Shinnecock Economic and Development Llc. to oversee the projects.
A person close to that group denied it had ever sought to circumvent tribal authority, or the contract with Gateway, which was finalized in February after considerable tribal debate.
The person said the group was primarily interested in economic development for the nation, including residential and nongaming activities for which land was required. The person also said the objectives were under formation, not finalized. "It was all for the nation," said the person. "Nothing was done contrary to the contract . . . We were exercising our sovereign rights."
It remains unclear how the tribe will conduct its probe into the activities of officials removed from office. Beverly Jensen, a Shinnecock spokeswoman, said the process was an "internal tribal" matter, and declined to discuss it.