Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tribe owes county $3 million, judge rules

EXCLUSIVE: Tribe owes county $3 million, judge rules
By EDWARD SIFUENTES esifuentes@nctimes.com North County Times | Posted: Saturday, January 14, 2012 9:00 pm | (2) Comments
A North County tribe was ordered last month to pay the county $3 million for failing to make payments for public safety and other services under an agreement signed in 2005, according to court documents.
The Santa Ysabel Band of Mission Indians struck the agreement with San Diego County in January 2005 as a condition of the tribe's gambling deal with the state.
The money was supposed to help pay for the off-reservation effects of the casino, including additional law enforcement, emergency and fire services.
The payments were also supposed to help pay for gambling addiction programs and the prosecution of casino-related crimes.
Santa Ysabel Casino opened in April 2007 but apparently failed to generate the kind of revenue the tribe anticipated.
According to the county, the tribe never made any payments, about $600,000 a year.
After nearly three years of missed payments, the county asked for arbitration negotiations in January 2010, according to court documents.
"Between the time of the casino opening and the date of the final arbitration award, the tribe made none of the payments required under the agreement," court documents state.
Tribal officials did not respond to repeated calls or emailed requests for comment. Supervisor Bill Horn, whose district includes Santa Ysabel, deferred questions to the county counsel.
Deputy county counsel Tom Bunton, the county's lead attorney in the case, could not be reached for comment Friday.
Santa Ysabel Casino, a 35,000-square-foot facility that cost $30 million to build, has struggled to attract enough customers to its remote location near Julian. As of January 2010, the casino was $24 million in debt, according to court documents.
In 2008, tribal officials told the county that "the casino was having a challenge in paying its bills and employees," according to a letter from the county's lead negotiator with the tribe.
Santa Ysabel got a late start in the gambling boom that started in North County in 2001. Tribes such as the Pala, Rincon and San Pasqual opened larger casinos closer to major roads, such as Interstate 15.
Unlike most gambling tribes, Santa Ysabel did not sign a gambling agreement, or compact, with the state until 2003. Most tribes negotiated their agreements in 1999, allowing them to build up to two casinos and operate up to 2,000 slot machines.
In 2003, Santa Ysabel signed a different deal that allowed only one casino and a maximum of 349 machines. It required the tribe to pay 5 percent of its winnings to the state and to pay the county for off-reservation problems such as traffic and increased crime.
At the time, Johnny Hernandez, who was chairman of the tribe, said it was a good deal.
Having no more than 350 machines means the tribe also qualifies for an annual payment of $1.1 million from larger, more established gambling tribes.
In May 2011, the arbiter, retired Judge Alice D. Sullivan, awarded the county $3 million, which the tribe failed to pay.
Soon after, the county filed a civil lawsuit in Superior Court in San Diego against the tribe. Attorneys for the tribe did not dispute that Santa Ysabel owed the county money, but they said it owed less, according to court documents.
"The award should be corrected because the amount of the award was not calculated correctly," according to a document filed by the tribe's attorney, Mark Radoff.
The document did not say exactly why the arbiter's award was incorrect. It said that based on the casino "books," the tribe owed the county $1.5 million.
Judge Michael Groch ruled Dec. 28, 2011, that the tribe owed the county $3 million.
Call staff writer Edward Sifuentes at 760-740-3511.

Read more: http://www.nctimes.com/news/local/sdcounty/exclusive-tribe-owes-county-million-judge-rules/article_5b8f0ab2-cc58-541f-946a-32af6b85cd7f.html#ixzz1jjUUyiDs

SANTA YSABEL: Casino theft case remains unsolved
SANTA YSABEL: Casino theft case remains unsolved
By EDWARD SIFUENTES esifuentes@nctimes.com North County Times | Posted: Friday, January 13, 2012 4:00 pm | 1 Comment
After burglars walked out of the Santa Ysabel Casino with a large amount of money in October, authorities said it was just a matter of time before the case was solved, but as of Wednesday no arrests had been made and the investigation continued.
Not much information about the case has been released on how the theft occurred and how many people may have been involved. According to the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, deputies were called to the casino Oct. 17 to investigate a significant amount of cash, reportedly over $100,000, being taken from a secured area in the casino.
At a press conference held in Poway following the theft, sheriff's Sgt. Thomas Evans, who has since retired from the department, said the thieves left a "large amount of evidence" at the scene and that the case would be resolved.
"It's just a matter of time," Evans said.
On Wednesday, the Sheriff's Department said it's conducting a joint investigation with the FBI, but declined to provide additional details about the case.
"We're not in a position right now to discuss any facet of this case, as it is ongoing," sheriff's spokeswoman Jan Caldwell said.
Repeated requests for comment were not answered by casino and tribal officials.
The Santa Ysabel Casino, which opened in April 2007, belongs to the Santa Ysabel Band of Mission Indians. The casino is the smallest in the county, with 349 slot machines and about 115 employees.
In recent years, the 900-member tribe's casino has struggled to attract customers and compete with larger operations, such as those on the Pala and Rincon reservations. Santa Ysabel is in a more remote location, near Julian about 40 miles east and more than an hour's drive from Escondido.
Tribes are sovereign nations with authority over their reservations. However, under state law, the Sheriff's Department is responsible for investigating crimes on local tribal lands.
When the casino opened, the Santa Ysabel agreed to pay the county for additional deputies to patrol the area, as well as fire and emergency medical services, but the tribe was unable to make the payments and the program was ended.
Call staff writer Edward Sifuentes at 760-740-3511.

Read more: http://www.nctimes.com/news/local/sdcounty/santa-ysabel-casino-theft-case-remains-unsolved/article_30e1043b-ad58-57fb-801c-ae0570375c1d.html#ixzz1jjUiyZiU

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