An unexpected push to retake control of the Meskwaki Bingo Casino and tribal offices in Tama may have put Alex Walker back in control. Spokesman Eric Woolson says it was a bloodless coup.About 5:30 this (Wednesday) morning he says groups representing the tribal council and tribal gaming commission regained control of the casino and gaming-commission offices on the Meskwaki settlement. Tom Jochum is spokesman for a group that supports Homer Bear, a rival of Walker’s who declared he was the tribe’s “appointed” leader last spring. Jochum says armed security people “on Alex Walker’s payroll” took possession of the casino and were trying to take over the tribal center. Woolson says there was no violence involved in the early-morning takeover. Woolson says one security guard tried to stop the group but they gave him information from the tribal leadership and gambling commission members he says were present, and the guard stood aside. Woolson says Alex Walker, winner of the last officially-sanctioned tribal election, leads a group that wants to get the tribe’s casino up and running once again. Woolson says the tribe will contact the National Indian Gaming Commission to start the process of re-opening the casino and asks laid-off employees to come in today, Thursday or Friday to get information about the casino’s re-opening. Woolson says the tribe’s losing three-Million dollars a week and so far has lost 54-Million dollars, with 1300 people out of work for months, and the tribal council wanted to end that. The NIGC, national Indian Gaming Commission, has said the casino will remain closed until the duly elected council was “in physical control” of the facility — and Alex Walker’s group, which won the last recognized election, was not in physical control so this was the first step. Woolson says Walker and his supporters still intend to honor the scheduled tribal election set for October 21st…and want their opponents to do so as well. Woolson says if the other faction thinks it can run the tribe, it should go out, campaign, and win the election. Homer Bear and supporters have occupied tribal offices since March and their spokesman Tom Jochum says despite the claims of the other faction, it was not tribal members involved in the early-morning coup.Jochum says the only tribal members involved in this action are on Alex Walker’s payroll. Jochum charges that a hired group of what he termed “armed thugs” helped the controversial leader stage the predawn showdown. Saying none of them are tribal members, Jochum says the Bear group “intercepted” records of a wire transfer of money sending 350-thousand dollars to API, a private security and investigation firm out of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Jochum says Homer Bear and his followers have been planning all along to go along with the scheduled October 21 election to determine tribal leadership. From the beginning Jochum says the position of Bear is that the will of the people prevail and if they vote against him, that’s their choice. Jochum says the “whole mess” started when Walker refused to recognizde recall petitions presented to him by tribal mmbers, and he charges Walker has spent the last 6 months spending tribal funds “against the interest of tribal members.” The dispute began with a July 2002 bonus to the casino manager, which set the tribe’s gaming commission to investigating. Walker’s council fired gaming commissioners, they were re-instated, critics within the tribe began a recall petition last fall which Walker ignored, and after another attempt this spring to remove gambling-commission members, a group calling itself appointed leaders took over tribal offices. The national Indian Gambling Commission in May orderd the tribe’s casino closed until the elected leadership was in control, but many had expected that to mean both sides wait till the vote of October 21st.
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