Dispute threatens to split Los Coyotes tribe
By Malcolm Maclachlan
An internal disagreement over whether to continue the relationship with their longtime business partner is threatening to split the Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeño Indians.
The tribe joined with a Detroit-based management company in 2003 as part of their effort to land a casino. After yet another setback in that effort, the tribe's longtime leader wants to sever ties with Barwest LLC and its owner, Michael Malik. Another faction in the tribe may be on the verge of attempting to oust her, Saubel said.
The result has been a barrage of accusations and counter allegations.
Los Coyotes has been in the news in recent months as the tribe sought to work with another tribe, the Big Lagoon Rancheria, to open a casino in Barstow. (Los Coyotes' reservation is located in San Diego County. Big Lagoon is in Humboldt County.) Saubel claimed that Barwest and Malik "have done nothing" for the tribe except make empty promises.
"Why should we give [Malik] another chance when there are other people who want to help us?" Saubel said. "He's standing in our way."
Saubel said the 300-member tribe is now divided into two approximately equal halves. Her group includes most of the older tribal members, she said. They also remain allied with the investment firm Barronhaus and its principals, Barron Maisel and Gretchen Belli.
The other side is led by a pair of younger tribal leaders, Shane Chapparosa and Tina Johnson. Saubel said this group includes the rest of the Chapparosa family and many of the tribe's younger members. They remain allied with Barwest.
"We are planning on moving forward with Barwest," said Chapparosa, who is listed as the tribe's vice spokesperson. He said he continues to work under Saubel.
When told that Saubel had made conflicting statements, he indicated that the dispute could be settled by next week. "We have some internal tribal matters that we need to take care of," Chapparosa said.
Capitol Weekly has acquired numerous and contradictory documents detailing the relationship between Barwest and Los Coyotes. A spokesman for Barwest, Tom Shields, characterized the leaking of these documents as "part of a long line of efforts by people who want to derail this project." One of these documents was a September 28 letter from Saubel to Malik and Barwest, written on tribal letterhead.
"The tribe is in the process of starting over," Saubel wrote. "As part of this new beginning, and at least for the time being, the Tribe will disengage from LCB Barwest LLC."
Shields characterized this as part of an ongoing discussion, and said the tribe never entertained serious offers from any other outside management company. He denied that there was any "dispute" within the tribe.
"There are confidential letters that have gone back and forth between the tribe," Shields said. "It's unfortunate that there are folks out there who feel they need to distribute confidential information."
In another complication, Barwest owns the Barstow land on which the tribe hopes to build their casino. In her letter, Saubel wrote "regardless of whether Barwest comes to work with us again as a developer and casino manager, the tribe hopes to negotiate the purchase of the Barstow real property owned by LCB Barwest."
Shields said that Barwest "provided the financing part of that is purchasing the land," and the parties still intend to build there. In a Wednesday story in a local Barstow paper, the Desert Dispatch, Malik was quoted as saying he would not sell the land to the tribe if they were no longer working together.
In the meantime, Shields said, the tribe had cut ties with the Barronhaus. This was indicated in an October 17 letter from the tribe’s official counsel, Joel Bernstein of the firm McDermott Will & Emery. "The tribe voted on October 14, 2007, to sever all business relationships with you. You are not to represent to any third party that you represent the tribe."
"We had some deep concerns about some of the people who were involved with the tribe," Shields said. "They have severed that relationship."
Not so, said Saubel. She said Barronhaus has "done a good job" and continues to work with the tribe. She said the letter in question was drafted by Bernstein but never sent. When asked how the letter got out, Saubel said she didn't know. However, the tribal offices were broken into over the weekend and numerous internal documents were stolen, she said.
Maisel also said that his company continues to work with Los Coyotes. Barronhaus started working with Los Coyotes in 2002, and actually brought Barwest in the next year, a decision he said was a mistake. He also said a lawsuit filed against them by Barwest in June was a "frivolous" attempt to force them out and that papers were never served. Maisel went on to allege the Barwest was the source of the letters leaked to the media.
"The source is Tom Shields trying to split the tribe in two," Maisel said.
Big Lagoon chairman Virgil Moorehead said that his tribe is no longer involved with the Barstow Casino effort and are going ahead with a solo attempt to build a casino on their own lands, 750 miles to the north. The two tribes had a deal with the state to pursue a shared casino in Barstow, but that expired six weeks ago.
"Since September 17, we're focused on Big Lagoon and our negotiations with the state," Moorehead said.
Senator Patricia Wiggins, D-Santa Rosa, proposed a gaming compact for the tribes this year in SB 157. The bill never moved out of committee and was amended in September to become a measure on licensing wine growers. The Michael Malik Sr. Trust contributed $2,000 to Wiggins' Senate campaign last year.
Saubel said there is a council-only meeting today to discuss the casino efforts--a meeting she was not invited to be but plans to attend anyway. A full tribal council meeting is set for mid-November. Saubel claimed the Malik has "seduced" the younger member of the tribe and called him "the devil himself."
"I was 83 when we started this. I'm 87 now," Saubel said. "I think he's just waiting for me to keel over."
NOTE: This wouldn't be the first time Mike Malik "seduced" younger members of a tribe. In the early 2000s, a married Malik had an affair with the Heather Lufkins, the young daughter of then Bay Mills Indian Community chair John Lufkins. She has alleged in court that Malik coerced her into lying during his subsequent divorce proceedings to shield real estate assets for his advantage.