Money was used to refinance debt
Wells Fargo has filed a lawsuit alleging that the Picayune Rancheria of California’s Chukchansi tribe failed to meet the terms of a $250m (£200m) loan. The bank claims that the tribe intentionally schemed to avoid paying back the 2012 loan.
The reason for the loan was to refinance the tribe’s debt. They were preparing to open their Chukchansi Gold Casino Resort in Coarsegold at the time. However, the federal government closed the casino in 2014 because of a power struggle between two factions of the tribe. At one stage, a group of 20 armed men raided the casino.
Eventually, the casino reopened its doors. It was the responsibility of the Chukchansi Economic Development Authority (CEDA) to cover the loan repayment by regularly putting revenue from the casino into a specific deposit account.
The suit alleges that the tribe used funds from this account to sustain operations at the facility and to repay other debts. Anything that was left over in the account after a certain period would then go toward repaying the loan from Wells Fargo.
According to the lawsuit, the loan repayments illegally came to a halt. Wells Fargo believes that the casino and CEDA are hoarding large sums of cash that should be used to repay the loan. This would be a violation of the casino’s agreement with the bank.
The next step
The lawsuit was filed in the New York State Supreme Court. It claimed:
Every dollar CEDA diverts from the deposit accounts is a dollar of collateral lost to the trustee and holders forever and a dollar that will never be available to make payments on secured notes.”
The bank also claims an affiliate lender created by the tribe recently gave a loan worth $2m (£1.6m) to CEDA. This sum, and as much as $12m (£9.6m) that CEDA had built up, was allegedly used to pay off debt obligation of other loans.
These actions allegedly date back to the reopening of the casino in 2015 and involved repayment for renovations that took place in the intervening years. CEDA even told public investors it would no longer be making payments to Wells Fargo after September 20, 2019.
Wells Fargo is seeking monetary damages and an acknowledgment from both the CEDA and the tribe that they are in violation of the original 2012 loan agreement.
Tribe faces other issues
This lawsuit is not the only major issue the Chukchansi tribe is facing. In June, more than 60 members of the tribe were controversially disenroled. Some critics say this was an internal attack motivated by greed for casino money.
The Chukchansi tribe has a reputation for using this tactic. Since the opening of the casino, over half the tribe’s members have been disenroled. There is a constant power struggle over wealth from the casino and its influence on the tribal council.