Robert Salgado, right, was given the Wendell Chino Humanitarian Award by National Indian Gaming Association Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr. at the association's annual conference on 2009. Salgado has been sentenced to 41 months in prison on bribery charges and tax evasion.

Former Soboba Chairman Sentenced for Bribery, Tax Evasion

Gale Courey Toensing

The former chairman of the Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians has been sentenced to 41 months in prison for taking $875,000 in bribes from tribal vendors and concealing it from the Internal Revenue Service, the Valley News reported.

Robert Salgado Sr., 68, who lives on the Soboba Reservation near San Jacinto, California, pleaded guilty to charges of bribery and tax evasion at his trial in U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles last October. In addition to the prison term, Salgado must pay $226,187 in back taxes to the IRS, the report said. Salgado must begin serving his term by June 20.

Salgado admitted that he accepted a total of $874,995 in bribe payments from five vendors who did business with the Soboba Band, the report said. Vendors who hoped to obtain or keep contracts with the tribe paid Salgado in cash, payments to his creditors and checks payable to an entity controlled by Salgado, according to court papers. The Valley News said Salgado specifically admitted:

  • Receiving $486,152 from a vendor involved in the tribe's $12.5 million purchase of a golf course now called the Country Club at Soboba Springs and other real estate purchases;
  • Taking about $184,000 in bribes from a second vendor that was awarded food concession and other contracts at the Soboba Casino;
  • Accepting bribes totaling $89,000 from a vendor that received a series of construction contracts from the Soboba Bank;
  • Taking $65,843 in bribes, plus "substantial cash payments which cannot be quantified," from another vendor that received a series of construction contracts; and
  • Accepting a total of $50,000 in bribes from Abbas Shilleh, the owner of California Parking Services Inc., which provided valet parking at the Soboba Casino.

Shilleh, 47, pleaded guilty last month to having paid bribes to Salgado. He is scheduled to be sentenced on June 6. Shilleh is the only other person named in the case.

Salgado also pleaded guilty to a tax offense, admitting that he filed a 2001 tax return that claimed he and his wife earned $146,114, when in reality they earned substantially more. Salgado admitted he also did not accurately report his income for tax years 2002 through 2006, failing to pay a total of $226,187 in taxes.

Prosecutors asked for a prison sentence for Salgado, according to sentencing documents reported by the Valley News. They said that Salgado "did not take one or two bribes. He took hundreds of them over the course of a decade. Defendant ran the tribe as if it belonged to him. Now he must pay the price."

Popular with the Soboba people, Salgado led the band for decades and achieved some notable victories for his nation. Under his leadership, the Soboba Band sued the federal government and a local water district and secured a federal water settlement act to protect the tribe’s water rights, resolving decades of litigation.

In 2008 when three tribal members were killed by deputies of the Riverside county Sheriff’s Department, Salgado stood up to the Riverside County Sheriff's Department and county leaders in a dispute over law enforcement's access to the reservation and safety concerns at the tribe's casino. He compared a sheriff's captain to Gen. George Custer. The tribe also developed a philanthropic program during Salgado’s tenure, with donations to the United Way, more than $20,000 to the National Football Foundation chapter in Riverside, and around $100,000 in scholarship to student athletes. Salgado is a former football player.

He has been admired beyond the Soboba Band for his commitment to tribal rights and sovereignty. In 2009, he received the Wendell Chino Humanitarian Award from the National Indian Gaming Association. The award is one of the highest honors in Indian country and is given annually in honor of Wendell Chino, a Mescalero Apache Indian who served as chairman of his nation for 43 years and was nationally known for raising his tribe out of poverty to economic self-sufficiency. During the award ceremony, a video about Salgado was shown, featuring praise from his family members, tribal leaders and elected lawmakers.

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ahuhhuh's picture
Submitted by ahuhhuh on
why does this sound so familiar...I grew up under regimes ran by the little hitlers..I didn't only walk in two worlds but often three or four on a little tribe in the midwest. Yet everybody has been following the very person who was convicted just like this character while many died in squalor. The tribe I belong to has a history of "arsenic' taught by the government who have tutored very well the distribution of the "ration" train. Case in point the true history of the tribe has been written in the last fifty years as embelzeler after another has been sentenced yet always reappears to take more money. The other tribe adjacent to us has invested well in education yet all we have are the talkers who play a good hand game. Yet we continue to hire relatives people who couldn't make it in the outside world and our leadership shows no dividends to any of us. Do not think for a moment that the good ancestors aren't seeking their justice because any funds comming from the tribal affliation are sacred. Anyone who steals from the tribe should be banned for life!!

brianman's picture
Submitted by brianman on
I'm sure Wendell Chino is rolling over in his grave and does not appreciate the idea of his visage sitting on the Warden's mantle for 41 months. Shame on NIGA for tarnishing such a great geentleman by giving this award to an out and out crook. What was NIGA thinking? They knew before the award was given that he was being investigated. There are other truer heroes in Indian Country more deserving.

hunkpapa's picture
Submitted by hunkpapa on
Nice Choice for this award. Two peas in a pod these two