ARAPAHO — A Custer County district judge has taken control of $6.4 million belonging to the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, ordering the funds held in a court-supervised account until two feuding factions within the tribes can reach an agreement.
Clinton-based First Bank and Trust Co. placed an administrative freeze on the tribes' accounts two months ago, pointing to an ongoing leadership dispute within the tribes as justification.
District Judge Doug Haught issued a decision Friday, taking control of the money and saying that he “would like to order the disputing parties to mediation ... but I do not believe I have the authority to do that without the consent of all disputing parties.”
“To do anything other than convert this account to a court-supervised account would be tantamount to deciding which of the tribal governments is legitimate,” Haught wrote in his decision. “I do not believe this court has the authority to make that decision.”
In his decision, Haught said tribal officials will have to essentially apply to use the frozen millions. He said he believes his court has jurisdiction over the accounts because First Bank and Trust Co. is a state-chartered institution and subject to state laws.
“Disbursement will be ordered based upon a yet-to-be-determined standard,” the judge wrote. “It is possible that no disbursement can be authorized until tribal turmoil has been resolved.”
According to court documents, the administrative freeze is the end result of a dispute between the tribes' top executives.
Janice Prairie Chief-Boswell, who is the tribes' disputed governor, and Leslie Wandrie-Harjo, who was lieutenant governor at one time, each claim to be governor of the tribes. The dispute, which has gotten ugly at times and divided the tribes into factions, has raged for more than a year.
Further complicating matters, Haught wrote in his opinion, is that tribal members have formed competing legislatures and court systems.
The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes are based in Concho and operate the Lucky Star brand of casinos in western Oklahoma.
Officials said that while other programs and services administered by the tribes would be disrupted following the bank's action to freeze the accounts, the tribes' gaming operations are expected to function normally throughout the ongoing legal process.