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Shinnecock tribe suspends trustees amid probe

Members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation last week voted to remove two tribal trustees and two members of the tribe's gaming authority pending a 30-day review of their business activities, several tribal sources said.

In a meeting of the nation on its Southampton reservation last Wednesday, the tribe passed an unprecedented resolution to remove trustees Lance Gumbs, Gordell Wright and the other officials, and immediately began an investigation of the matter.

Gumbs, a longtime trustee and former chairman who is a frequent public face of the nation, strongly denied any wrongdoing and questioned the process that led to the action. Wright didn't respond to calls seeking comment.

Gumbs called the vote to remove him and the others "illegal," and said, "We're not looking at this as a suspension."

Tribal spokeswoman Beverly Jensen declined to discuss the move, calling the move an "internal tribal matter."

Meanwhile, a deal that would have placed a Shinnecock casino on 80 acres of land beside the Brookhaven Rail Terminal in Yaphank may be in jeopardy because of tribal delays in approving a $3 million option to purchase the land, sources said. Owners of the property had given the tribe until July 25 to finalize the decision, according to people familiar with the deal. It had been the subject of months of negotiation.

"We have not selected any sites," said Jensen.

Tom Shields, a spokesman for Gateway Casino Resorts, the tribe's longtime, Detroit-based casino developer, said the tribe hadn't finalized a land purchase or authorized Gateway to send a check for the option.

"The tribe has never voted to agree to purchase any land for a casino site," Shields said. "The tribe votes on those types of issues. When they want to move forward, whether it be an option or purchase, we stand ready to financially support them when they decide to select a site for construction."

Brookhaven Rail Terminal, which owns the land, declined to comment.

Gumbs was among a group of tribal members who earlier this year raised objections to the contract with Gateway. The tribe ultimately resolved those issues, and Gumbs and Wright in April were elected to trustee posts.

More than 80 tribal members voted in favor of the suspensions and investigation. But Gumbs said, "None of the votes were official, and the counts were not done in an official way."

One of the people suspended said the business activities involved the prospective acquisition of land unrelated to gaming, including for commercial and residential uses, but the tribe wouldn't confirm it.

The tribe's decade-long effort to open one or more casinos in the state wasdealt a blow earlier this year when Republican lawmakers who had backed a plan for a tribal gaming facility at Belmont Park abruptly withdrew their support. That followed Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's endorsement of a $4 billion convention center at the racino at Aqueduct that sought full casino gambling through a state referendum. Since then, the convention center talks with Shinnecock rival Genting have gone quiet.

Newsday previously reported the tribe had a tentative plan to build a facility in Yaphank, starting with the former Estee Lauder warehouse off the Long Island Expressway while starting work on a larger facility in the undeveloped rail property.

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