Snoqualmie Tribe casino company sued by former Tribe employee

SNOQUALMIE VALLEY - A lawsuit filed with King County last year alleges that members of the Snoqualmie Tribe may have received illegal payments from MGU, the company that is developing the proposed Tribal casino outside Snoqualmie.

The allegation was one of many made by former Snoqualmie Tribe Chief Executive Officer John Halliday, who was the sole plaintiff in the case that was filed in May 2004. In the suit, Halliday claimed he was unjustly left out of the deal to build a casino outside of Snoqualmie on North Bend Way. He asked for unspecified damages.

One of the defendants in the case was Jerry Moyes, an Arizona businessman who put up the money to build the casino. Also named are Jim Miller and Emery Parish, former employees of MGU. The wives of Moyes, Miller and Parish are also all named in the suit.

Halliday claims that he was hired by the Tribe in March 2000 to work on the Tribe's business operations, a position that would have him manage, direct and control all operations of the casino. He alleged that the contract also stated he would be the CEO of that business for a minimum of four years.

In June of that year, Halliday claims that the Tribe entered into an agreement with MGU. Although neither the Tribe nor any of its members were named as defendants in the suit, one of the allegations made by Halliday was that the defendants made payments that went directly to members of the Tribe. Such payments would be against federal law, according to National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) regulations, which prohibits Tribal members from taking money from developers.

The lawsuit then claimed that in April 2001, MGU presented the Tribe with a contract that had MGU manage the business, not Halliday. Halliday approached the Tribe about honoring the agreement in May. In June, the Tribe went into a partnership with MGU, and Halliday then offered MGU and the Tribe the opportunity to buy out the rest of his contract. Later that month, Halliday was placed on administrative leave and then fired.

The Tribe's administrator, Matt Mattson, called any allegations about illegal payments to the Tribe groundless. He said the Tribe never received any money from MGU prior to the agreement to work with them, and while the Tribe does receive money from MGU now, all of the money, and the way it is spent, is lawful. Mattson said that under NIGC rules, the Tribe can receive up to $25,000 a month from MGU and can spend it on projects related to the casino.

He said that the Tribe currently receives $13,000 a month from MGU and that some of those funds could go to the Tribe's attorney for legal services for Tribal members.

Mattson said Halliday is trying to bring down the casino project by going after as many defendants as he can.

"It's the shotgun approach," he said.

Parish, who was fired by MGU last year, said he had some doubts about some of the payments he saw happen during his time on the project.

"I saw things I had questions about," Parish said.

The lawsuit is one of a couple of legal problems the Tribe has run into in the past year. In December, the president of MGU, Thomas LeClaire, filed a lawsuit in Arizona asking a court to establish who runs MGU, Moyes or Miller. Miller headed the company for a time until some ownership issues were cleared up with Moyes. Miller was fired last year after the two had a falling out.

That case has been delayed for weeks because of changes in who the judge will be to preside over the lawsuit.

Mattson said that Moyes has since sued Miller for misconduct, bringing another lawsuit into what is already a contentious ownership battle for MGU. While the ownership of MGU is in dispute, Mattson said the Tribe has been fighting for the last piece of federal approval it needs to get the land, located north of North Bend Way and west of Southeast 384th Avenue, into trust. He said there is currently a debate in Washington D.C. between the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Department of Justice that has delayed the project's progress since last winter. Due to a revolving and ever-changing set of regulations the Tribe has to adhere to, Mattson said the Tribe feels like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football from Lucy (federal government), only to have it taken away at the last second.

"We have been running in place since February [of last year]," Mattson said.

Steve Roman, a spokesman for Jerry Moyes, said Moyes would not comment on any lawsuit currently in litigation. Halliday's attorney, Erik Landenburg, also had no comment.

Jim Miller did not return a call for comment.

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