Shinnecocks again vote to oust 5 leaders

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The Shinnecock Indian Nation voted a second time on Tuesday on a resolution to remove top leaders from office following a three-month probe of their business activities. But the ousted leaders, who have maintained their innocence, blasted the process as "illegal" and refused to recognize the decision.

Late last night, the tribe confirmed a vote to oust two trustees, two gaming authority officials and a former tribal council representative. There were nearly 200 eligible voters, but those ousted and some of their supporters didn't vote, in protest of the process.

The tribe and its casino partners, Gateway Casino Resorts, accused the men of attempting to circumvent an existing casino-development contract with Gateway by exploring separate deals, but the men and tribal lawyers have said their efforts were preapproved, nonconflicting and legal.

The men, including trustees Lance Gumbs and Gordell Wright, said they resumed their posts Sept. 17 and blamed their ouster on a "political coup."

The nation's vote Tuesday, prompted by a petition of 150 eligible voters, was intended to "reaffirm" a July 31 vote that removed the men from office, though it granted them a 30-day period to prove their innocence. The tribe also began an investigation into their activities -- a probe the accused members said "found no evidence" to warrant their removal. Rev. Michael Smith, a tribal member on the investigations committee, countered, "There's a lot of stuff that was conclusive."

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A letter Gumbs and Wright sent to all tribal members last week, bearing a tribal-trustee letterhead, pointed to recent federal Bureau of Indian Affairs correspondence saying Gumbs and Wright continued to be recognized as trustees. The BIA suggested a federal mediator to resolve the dispute.

The vote left open the question of how to fill any vacant seats should tribal members vote to reaffirm the July vote to remove. The tribe does not have a constitution.

The accused leaders have questioned the process that led to their removal, saying it violated tribal protocol and was based on emails and documents they consider stolen. The FBI looked into claims the emails were stolen, sources said.

The accused tribal leaders aren't the only ones questioning the process. Janine Tinsley-Roe, an off-reservation tribal member who heads the cultural group, the Shinnecock Sewanaka Society, took issue with the process that bars non-reservation members from voting. "As long as they [tribal leaders] continue to exclude the majority of the legitimate tribal descendants from participating in the democratic process of being allowed to lead and vote for our community leaders they will continue to be in the wrong."

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