Law | Politics

Paskenta Band to proceed with lawsuit against former officials

This Cessna 560 jet was purchased with tribal funds and was registered to Paskenta Enterprises Corp in March 2011, according to Flight Aware. Photo from Facebook

The Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians in California can pursue former leaders and former employees for allegedly stealing millions of dollars from the tribe, a federal judge ruled on Friday.

The tribe sued more than two dozen people, financial institutions and companies in March, accusing them of participating in a "twelve-year-long looting spree" of its finances. The complaint alleges at least $60 million was taken.

The defendants sought to dismiss the suit, alleging a lack of federal jurisdiction under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act. With respect to the former tribal leaders -- including former treasurer Leslie Lohse -- and the former employees, they said the lawsuit was an attempt to settle an intra-tribal dispute.

Judge Garland E. Burrell, Jr., disagreed. Although he hasn't ruled on the merits, he said the tribe has stated a valid claim that can be heard in federal court. The case will proceed against these defendants -- nine people and one company.

But Burrell agreed to dismiss charges against most of the remaining defendants, including institutions and individuals not directly affiliated with the tribe. In one instance, though, he is giving the tribe time to amend its complaint.

"We are gratified by the court's decision. The tribe brought this action to hold responsible a group of individuals who, for well over a decade, conspired to steal tens of millions of dollars from the tribe," the tribe said in a statement on Friday.

Burrell followed up his decision with another ruling today that denied the tribe's request for a preliminary injunction, Courthouse News reported. The tribe had asked for the assets of the defendants to be frozen, pending resolution of any restitution claims, which remain alive in the suit.

The spending at issue first came to light after an audit was conducted last year amid a leadership dispute. Tribal members eventually voted Leslie Lohse and three others out of office. Only Lohse is named in the suit, however.

Among the purchases questioned by the tribe was a $3 million jet and $209,000 in gold. The jet was used by the defendants for personal purposes and not official tribal business, the complaint alleged.

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the case, Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians v. Crosby.

Get the Story:
Fight Over Tribal Funds Stays in Federal Court (Courthouse News Service 8/17)

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