When exactly the investigation that led to FBI agents and State Troopers swarming onto the Shinnecock Reservation last week began is still unclear. But anecdotal evidence about what the FBI agents did while they were on the reservation in Southampton hints that the raid was in some way connected to last summer’s upheaval within the tribe, which led to two disputed votes to oust four tribal officials from office and a months-long fight over leadership of the tribe.
Nearly a dozen FBI agents, escorted by several State Troopers, entered unannounced into tribal offices early last Wednesday morning, May 1, searching files and confiscating what appeared to be computer hard drives, according to several witnesses to the morning’s events.
During the more than eight hours the agents were on the reservation, they searched the offices of the tribe’s Gaming Authority, the appointed panel responsible for overseeing the tribe’s effort to build a high-stakes casino on Long Island, and the homes of two tribe members, one of them a member of the Gaming Authority.
The agents also reportedly interviewed at least two members of the Gaming Authority, as well as at least two members of the tribe’s Council of Elders, an informal committee of former tribal officials.
“From the people they were talking to and the stuff they were looking at, it’s pretty clear what they were interested in,” said one tribe member, who asked not to be identified.
Nearly all of the individuals who were interviewed by the FBI were also at the fore, or involved intimately, in the effort last July and August to oust former Tribal Trustees Lance Gumbs and Gordell Wright and Gaming Authority members Phil Brown and Barre Hamp from the elected offices, and to bar a fifth man, Charles Randall, from representing the tribe in any way.
Over the eight months of strife that ensued, the five men said that the campaign to discredit them was an attempt to silence them because they raised questions about details of the contracts negotiated by the Gaming Authority and a prior Tribal Trustees board between the Shinnecocks and Gateway Casino Resorts, the Detroit-based casino developers who have spent millions to support the tribe’s casino push in exchange for a percentage of potential future revenues.
Led primarily by members of the Elders Council and an investigative committee appointed by former Tribal Trustee Chairman Randy King, the campaign to oust the men laid out charges of abuse of authority and accused them of having created corporations and entered into agreements with a giant real estate investment hedge fund to facilitate the tribal purchase, redevelopment and operation of the Nassau Coliseum.
The evidence presented against the men by their accusers was based primarily on emails between Mr. Randall and representatives of the real estate investment group about the deal. Mr. Randall said at the time that the emails came from his private account, which he said must have been illegally accessed, hacked, by a skilled individual.
Mr. Randall declined to comment this week about the investigation or its possible connection to the hacking of his email account.
In recent months, the four men had also publicly accused Gateway Casino Resorts of conspiring to defraud the tribe in the negotiating of their contracts that would have meant hundreds of millions in revenues for the company and of having taken steps to derail the Nassau Coliseum project the men had been working on independent of its contract with Gateway.
The same week that the emails Mr. Randall says were stolen surfaced, an attorney working for Gateway wrote a letter to the principals of the investment fund that had been working with the Mr. Brown, Mr. Hamp and Mr. Randall on the Nassau Coliseum proposal, telling them that their discussions violated Gateway’s exclusive partnership contract with the tribe.
Mr. Gumbs and Mr. Wright said in an interview this past winter that the contract expressly allowed the tribe to work on deals for other property, in particular deals not related to casino developments, with groups outside of their agreements with Gateway.
The Tribal Trustees have told The Press that they will not answer any questions or discuss any tribal affairs.