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Shinnecock council seeks federal probe into gaming initiatives

The Shinnecock Indian Nation’s governing body is seeking a federal probe into its decadelong casino gaming initiatives and plans to launch its own inquiry — spurred by the federal conviction of a former tribal gaming authority member.

In a statement to Newsday, the nation’s council of trustees said it had been in contact with the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District after Karen Hunter, 62, pleaded guilty Oct. 13 to illegally accessing a tribal member’s private computer to obtain information, a misdemeanor.

Calling the email theft “another dark and unfortunate circumstance stemming from a foul gaming partnership and initiative that began back in 2003,” the council said it recently met with federal prosecutors and continues to cooperate “in hopes to fully address all matters and hold all of those accountable for any impropriety discovered as a result of the ongoing investigations.”

Trustees said they will ask federal prosecutors for a probe “into the entire gaming project,” which spanned from 2003 to 2012, and involved a contract for multiple casino sites with Gateway Casino Resorts, a Detroit-based firm owned by casino magnate Michael Malik and Little Caesars Pizza owner Marion Ilitch.

With Gateway as the outside driver, the tribe once pondered opening casinos at such high-profile sites as the Nassau Coliseum, Belmont racetrack and Brookhaven Calabro Airport. The ambitions eventually crumbled after the sites were withdrawn by state or local officials, opposing residents or tribal members.

The tribal council previously conducted an inquiry into the activities of five former officials who it said had sought to negotiate casino contracts and gaming sites without full tribal authorization — charges the men denied even as the tribe sought to remove them from office.

The men, including former trustees Lance Gumbs and Gordell Wright, have pointed to Hunter’s guilty plea in asserting that they had been wrongly accused.

The previous tribal probe set off a schism within the tribe as those affiliated with Gumbs complained of being unfairly accused.

“It really ripped our tribe apart,” Gumbs said after Hunter’s plea. “That wound is still fresh. It has not gone away.”

He and the four other men said in October they planned to speak with a Justice Department liaison to tribal governments to pursue charges related to the case. A person close to the Hunter case said further charges could be filed.

Tom Shields, a Gateway spokesman, said last month: “We haven’t been involved with the tribe directly for years and have no knowledge of any of these activities,” referring to the computer case and other allegations.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment.


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