Trump sues Eastern Pequots
NEW LONDON, Conn. - Casino mogul Donald Trump dropped his other shoe on the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation, filing a $10 million state lawsuit May 28 over his exclusion from the newly unified tribe's development plans.
The long-threatened suit grew from the conditions of last year's federal recognition of the tribe. The BIA unified two competing groups, the Paucatuck Eastern Pequots, who were financially supported by Trump in his quest for a Connecticut casino, and the Eastern Pequots, who were backed by Southport sportsman David A. Rosow. The unified tribal council picked Rosow as casino developer in mid-April by a nine-vote majority.
According to Trump's court filing, none of the former Paucatuck members of the new council cast a vote at that meeting, in an apparent attempt to avoid personal liability for breaking his contract. Trump said he had advanced $9,192,807 to the Paucatucks in their quest for recognition, among other things paying the annual salary for the Paucatuck tribal council members.
According to a spokesman for the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation, Trump's lawsuit also played on the old divisions between the two tribal groupings, trying to use them to bolster his claims. After the joint federal recognition last summer, the two groups engaged in a prolonged and to all appearances heart-felt process of reconciliation.
"To the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation, this lawsuit is just another challenge we will overcome together," said Tribal Council Chairwoman Marcia Jones Flowers in a prepared response.
"The BIA's decision re-united our families and recognized one historic Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation based on a painstaking and extensive analysis of all the evidence and historic documents. This decision speaks quite clearly about the centuries-old origins of our families and their relations over the years. Nothing more needs to be said."
Trump's filing in the state Superior Court in New London refers to the former Eastern Pequot tribe as "the Sebastian splinter group" and maintains that the former Paucatucks were the only state-recognized tribe. The Sebastian family led by Roy Sebastian, Chief Hockeo is prominent in Eastern Pequot affairs, but that branch of the tribe now numbers about 1,000. The Paucatucks, led in part by the Cunha family, number 150.
After months of innumerable committee meetings, the two groups, which both filed recognition petitions, worked out an interim constitution with a new tribal council of 14 members, nine from the old Eastern Pequots and five from the Paucatucks.
Trump's suit alleges that this constitution was part of conspiracy to break his contract. It required a quorum of 10 members to conduct business. According to the suit, only one member from the old Paucatuck tribe attended the mid-April meeting to choose a developer, thus giving it a quorum. But the Paucatuck member, identified as Eugene R. Young Jr., did not vote. So only the former Eastern Pequot members made the final decision to stick with their own backer, David Rosow.
The filing alleges that the former Paucatuck council members declined to vote in hopes of avoiding the legal fall-out of breaking the contract with Trump. It also charges that before the vote Young "demanded a monetary payment" from Trump not to participate in the meeting. "The defendant Young's demand was refused by Trump," said the filing.
Young could not be reached for comment before press time.
The suit, announced at a press conference at a New London hotel, opened the floodgates for polemics among the backers, to the delight of state politicians opposed to casinos for any tribe.
Rosow broke his previous silence on Trump with a prepared statement saying, "One of the weapons in the Trump arsenal that he uses quite often in failed investments is to file a lawsuit based on unfounded and extraordinary allegations with little basis in the issues or the facts. Using the courts to recover from a bad business deal is never a good idea, especially when innocent people are harmed by irresponsible allegations."
He said that Eastern Capital Development, his partnership handling the Pequot plans, "is comfortable with its actions with the Tribe and we will defend this lawsuit vigorously."
In separate interviews with the local press, Rosow said the Eastern Pequots had no desire to work with Trump, both because of insulting comments he once made about the related Mashantucket Pequot tribe and because of doubts about the financial soundness of his casino empire.
Rosow noted that Trump's casinos "are extraordinarily leveraged," the polite Wall Street way of saying deep in debt. Trump recently refinanced his casino debt with a $490 million bond sale.
Trump owns three casinos in Atlantic City, including the Taj Mahal, and a riverboat casino in Gary, Ind. He also managed the casino of the 29 Palms Band of Mission Indians near Palm Springs, Calif., under the name Trump 29. A recent visit to Trump 29 showed little evidence of tribal ownership or culture. But it did include something of a shrine to Trump, a Chairman's Club gift center where points on the casino players' card could be redeemed for copies of Trump's book "The Art of the Deal" or bobble-head Trump dolls.