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Casino seeker's affiliation disputed

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Posted: Thursday, June 9, 2005 10:00 pm

The man looking to build a casino resort at Flag City, west of Lodi, comes from a tribe currently divided by a feud and unrecognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

William Bill says he is the tribal chief of the Winnemucca Indian Colony, but that claim has been disputed by another tribal family, the Wassons.

Glen Wasson, a former tribe leader, questioned Bill's involvement in the tribe in 2000. The dispute became even more intense when Wasson was found stabbed to death that same year.

Currently, that fight is in federal and tribal courts, where it's been for years, and until it is resolved the bureau does not recognize anyone as a tribal leader or even the tribe itself.

"We don't recognize any tribe," said Bob Hunter, superintendent of the bureau's Western Nevada Agency office located in Carson City, Nev.

When told Bill is in Stockton saying he's the chief of the tribe while promoting his plans for the first American Indian casino in San Joaquin County, Hunter said: "I guess he can say that, but that's not true."

It is unclear if the apparent ambiguity of the Winnemucca tribe's status would affect Bill's efforts to build a casino.

Bill is going forward as if it was business as usual.

He said the tribe is recognized by the federal government, and he is in fact the chief.

The Winnemucca Indian Colony does not receive federal money, Bill said, so it is not beholden to any decisions on opinions by the BIA.

Hunter said the dispute is being heard in the Nevada District Court, as well as being reviewed by the Interior Board of Indian Appeals. Until either body makes a decision, he said there is no Winnemucca tribe.

"It's complicated and all mixed up," he said.

Bill, though, said it is rather simple.

"This is a tribal issue, not a bureau issue," he said.

Yet, Bill did produce a letter dated May 22, 2000, from Hunter to the Winnemucca Tribal Council in which Hunter writes that Bill "is recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs as the acting chairman for the Winnemucca Indian Colony."

Efforts to contact Tom Wasson, who Hunter said is leading the argument against Bill's leadership of the tribe and now lives in Susanville, were unsuccessful.

Winnemucca, a small town northeast of Reno with a population of a little more than 7,000, is the tribe's ancestral home. Bill has said no tribe member currently lives in the area, and he is looking to set up a casino to help support the tribe's 77 members.

Donald Pope, the Reno attorney representing Bill in the dispute, confirmed the case has been tied up in the courts for years. He would not further comment on litigation, until he got in touch with Bill.

According to news reports from the time, Glen Wasson was found stabbed to death outside the Winnemucca tribal building. Shortly before he died, Glen Wasson had reportedly begun questioning Bill's role in the tribe, while Bill had been challenging the Wassons leadership, saying they were using tribal funds to purchase personal items, including stereos and even a car.

Bill is attempting to get a 20,000-square foot casino built on about 18 acres of vacant land in Flag City. He said the project should be an economic boon for San Joaquin County and Lodi, as it would create 400 new jobs and bring thousands of more visitors to the region.

However, Jack Sieglock, the county Board of Supervisor member who represents the Lodi area, has already spoken out against the plan.

Contact reporter Andrew Adams at andrewa@lodinews.com.

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