Plymouth, Calif. — A once-tiny, nearly destitute American Indian tribe is pushing hard to build a $100 million casino -- but it's not traditional tribal members gunning for riches.
Hundreds of people have been newly added to the Ione Band of Miwok Indians' membership rolls, which were opened up by regional Bureau of Indian Affairs officials. Among the new members are several BIA employees and dozens of their relatives.
Four congressmen have called for an investigation, though federal officials have so far declined to intervene. Rep. Nick Rahall, ranking Democrat on the House Resources Committee, called the BIA's move an apparent "coup d'etat" that should make other tribes "tremble with fear."
Regional BIA officials opened the membership against the traditional leaders' wishes to include members from two other bands in the area. The federal officials then oversaw an Aug. 10, 2002, election that swapped the old leaders for a pro-casino group that includes some of the BIA employees themselves.
Before the Bureau of Indian Affairs became involved, the Ione Band had about 70 members living on land near Ione, about 40 miles east of Sacramento in the rolling hills of one of California's wine regions.
Now the band's official membership has swelled to 535. None of the new members is related to the original 70.
Amy Dutschke, a member of another American Indian group whose family has roots in the Ione area, was the BIA's acting regional director in June 2002 when she authorized the Ione Band's last leadership election, documents show.
Now Dutschke and 68 of her relatives are on the tribe's official list of registered voters. They include her uncle and a niece, who also work for Indian Affairs, according to tribal rolls, a BIA employee list and opposition members.
The election was overseen by Indian Affairs employee Carol Rogers-Davis, whom the BIA named chair of the elections board. She now has three relatives on the tribal roll.
The election produced five new tribal leaders, four of whom are related to Dutschke.
Matt Franklin, the new tribal chairman recognized by the BIA, said he could provide documents proving the legitimacy of the tribe's expanded membership. However, Franklin did not produce the documents after repeated requests from The Associated Press over several weeks.