Tex McDonald, Chukchansi Gold Casino

Tex McDonald, who maintains that he was trying to save the casino when he led an armed assault on it in October, avoided life imprisonment. (ABC30.com).

A former California tribal leader has been sentenced to 16 months in jail for leading an armed assault on the Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino in October last year.

Facing a possible life sentence for 27 counts that included assault and kidnapping, Tex McDonald accepted a plea bargain and was sentenced instead to 16 months in jail.

Despite having two previous felony counts on his record, he will walk free today (Friday) due to time already served.

Last year’s armed standoff at the Chukchansi Gold was the culmination of a bizarre power struggle between two factions wrestling for control of the casino.

The origin of the dispute appears to lie in the controversial practice of “disenrollment,” in which a tribe strips certain members of their tribal status, thus denying them the associated benefits, in this case profit from the casino.

Tribal Warfare

Since 2003 hundreds of members the Picayune Ranchera of Chukchansi Indians have been stripped of their tribal affiliation, including some of the last native speakers of the Chukchansi language.

This led to a disputed election in 2012 and a schism within the tribe between those who supported disenrollment and those bitterly opposed.

The casino had been run by the McDonald faction from a nearby business park up until August last year, when the faction led by Reggie Lewis, the beneficiary of the disputed election and incumbent tribal leader, occupied the casino in the early hours, effectively taking it over.  

Matters came to a head when the Tribal Gaming Authority threatened to close the casino down and fine the tribe up to $16 million due the late filing of audits.

On October 9 at around 6:30pm, 20 armed men, led by McDonald, entered the building and ordered security guards at gunpoint into a secure area of the casino where they were handcuffed and assaulted, forcing around 500 patrons and employees from the casino and hotel.

Casino Still Shuttered

McDonald claims that he was attempting to retrieve the audits and save the casino, and he has significant support among the Chukchansi, despite his criminal behavior.

The casino remains shuttered and its 1300 employees out of work. It is the tribe’s largest source of revenue and the local business community relies heavily on the tourism it brings to the area.

McDonald said he plans to continue to work towards reopening the casino on his release.

“We could have fought this, and I feel relatively confident that we had a shot of actually prevailing, but that would mean Tex is in custody for probably at least another year,” said Antonio Alvarez, McDonald’s attorney.