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15 charged in armed takeover that closed casino


  • The Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino is shown in a June 2003 aerial photo after officially opening to the public in Coarsegold, California. (AP Photo/The Fresno Bee, Tomas Ovalle, File)
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COARSEGOLD, Calif. » Prosecutors have filed charges against 15 people in the armed takeover of a Central California casino at the center of a power struggle between factions of a Native American tribe.

The group’s leader, Tex McDonald, 64, surrendered Monday to the Madera County Sheriff’s Office along with Vernon King James, 59. Authorities arrested Eric Domingo Flores Suniga, 30, on Sunday, said Erica Stuart, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office.

Stuart said deputies remain on the lookout for 12 others wanted on charges that include kidnapping, false imprisonment and assault with a firearm. Bail for McDonald was set at $1 million.

The charges stem from a dispute between rival factions of the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians vying for control of the Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino northeast of Fresno.

Authorities closed the casino’s doors last month after one group attempted a takeover. More than a dozen people stormed the casino with weapons, sending hundreds of gamblers running with chips still on the tables. Nobody was seriously hurt.

The group has said it sought to obtain financial records to complete overdue audits.

A federal judge has ruled in favor of the state’s attorney general to keep the casino closed until the dispute is settled. The National Indian Gaming Commission also ordered the casino closed.

Madera County District Attorney Michael Keitz told the Fresno Bee the charges make each defendant eligible for a state prison sentence. He announced the charges Friday, saying the suspects can surrender or be arrested.

Attorney David Leibowitz, who represents members of the faction facing charges, said the men did nothing illegal and put no casino customers in danger. He said the group intends to work with prosecutors to resolve the case quickly and clear the men’s names.

The casino employed 1,100 people — most of them now laid off — and profits funded monthly checks to tribal members.

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