Chukchansi casino raid suspects admit guilt

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Eleven men are admitting they're guilty for their roles in the armed Chukchansi takeover that led to the casino's closure. (KFSN)

Eleven men are admitting they're guilty for their roles in the armed Chukchansi takeover that led to the casino's closure.

"That's good that they were willing to man up and you know, say that they did wrong," said current tribal chair Reggie Lewis.

All but two of the criminal cases resolved Friday, seven months after the raid.

The images of efficiency and violence from the takeover are striking. More than a dozen men, most of them armed, raided the Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino like a SWAT team. They claimed to be the rightful police force working for the rightful powers of the Picayune Rancheria.

But the Madera County Sheriff's Office and the district attorney didn't see it that way. And neither did the people from whom they seized control.

"And if anybody should know you can't go into a casino with guns - even if you work for the tribe, even if you worked for the tribe, even if you're the police for the tribe," said Lewis. "Our own security at the casino were not armed."

The government shut down the casino because of safety concerns, and prosecutors charged 15 men involved in the takeover with a long list of crimes connected to the raid. On Friday, the DA got four of the men to plead guilty to misdemeanor criminal trespass, including John Oliveira, who led the force conducting the raid. Seven more defendants were absent, but are prepared to accept the deal. Their attorneys say they were convinced when prosecutors agreed to dismiss the charges if they all stay out of trouble and away from the casino for anywhere from six to 12 months.

"We look at it as a compromise to avoid the time and expense and risk of going to trial," said defense attorney Mark Coleman. "It was really an offer that's just too good to pass up."

Legal analysts have told Action News surveillance video from the casino was worst for Tex McDonald, who was acting as tribal chair at the time of the raid. He was the only participant to plead guilty to a felony charge, admitting to false imprisonment in exchange for a sentence that'll have him free again by July.

District attorney David Linn says justice prevailed Friday.

"We wanted an admission from them that they had done something wrong and that's what we obtained," he said.

What they also obtained was an assurance of security at the casino. Current tribal chair Reggie Lewis tells us they're making progress towards reopening in the next three to six months and finishing up the criminal case is another positive step.

"You know, the state stepped in and they were very concerned about the safety issues and I think we're addressing those to where when people come back, safety should not be a problem," he said.

Prosecutors dropped charges against Miguel Ramos. The cases against John Cayanne and Vernon King are still moving forward, although a judge ordered King's release Friday.

Related Topics:
crimetrackerchukchansi gold resort & casinocasinocourtcourt caseCoarsegoldMadera County
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