Federal officials last month agreed to look into Lac du Flambeau tribe members’ claims of corruption among tribal leadership, peacefully ending protestors’ 14-hour occupation of the gaming tribe’s northern Wisconsin headquarters. Members complained of supposedly hidden information on the debt-ridden tribe’s finances, including unproductive gaming investments.
A prime issue is a $50 million debt-consolidation bond the tribal council issued in January, partly to help fund a cymbaltasupports.com proposed commercial riverboat casino complex in Natchez, Mississippi. Collateral for the bond is all revenue from the tribe’s 900-slot Lake of the Torches casino, which originated as a 1970s bingo hall in Lac du Flambeau.
“Not one council member read the 585-page bond document before voting on it,” says council member Brooks Big John, “and no one understood it. Now it has basically leveraged all our money from our cash cow-the casino.” Big John and two others voted against the bond.
The tribe must pay 12 percent interest on the five-year bond, with monthly payments of more than $500,000, Big John says. It is considering mortgaging 1,800 acres of tribal fee lands to raise cash, disturbing many of the tribe’s 3,000 members, half of whom live on the reservation.
The tribe had also proposed a casino in Shullsburg, Wisconsin, 300 miles from the reservation. The U.S. Interior Department in January rejected it as too distant.
Lac du Flambeau leaders earlier invested $3 million for a minority interest in a gaming cruise venture that was to see the Dream Catcher vessel sailing out of Cancun, Mexico. The project collapsed and the boat is for sale in a Florida drydock, some of the tribe say.
After last week’s invasion of the headquarters while hundreds of the tribe crowded the adjacent casino parking lot, top tribal officials were not commenting on possible fraud, graft and other allegations. One said no money is missing and all spending had been authorized correctly.
Lake of the Torches remains open.