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Trial Over Kialegee Casino Countinues (May 17, 2012)

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - The attorney for an American Indian tribe suggested Thursday that Oklahoma's attorney general opposed the tribe's plan to build a casino in a Tulsa suburb because he's from the area.

The accusation came after the state rested in its federal lawsuit to stop the 350-member Kialegee Tribal Town from putting a casino on a 20-acre parcel of land in the city of Broken Arrow. The tribe's attorney, Joe Farris, attempted to call Attorney General Scott Pruitt to the stand, but state attorneys quickly objected.

When U.S. District Judge Gregory K. Frizzell asked Farris to provide evidence showing Pruitt was needed as a witness, Farris suggested Pruitt's office pursued the case because he lives in that suburb.

"Is it because he's from Broken Arrow?" Farris asked the judge. "This is where his people live."

Frizzell declined to order Pruitt to testify, but the attorney general stood in court to address the accusation. He said his office also is pursuing a case in federal court involving the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians over whether they have the right to conduct gaming on a tract of land in Tahlequah, a northeastern Oklahoma city located more than 60 miles from where Pruitt lives.

The tense back-and-forth came after Oklahoma called its last four witnesses, including some who outlined residents' worries that the casino's location next to churches, schools and clusters of neighborhoods in Broken Arrow would cause more crime, deflate property values and unravel marriages and homes as people became addicted to gambling.

Oklahoma is seeking a federal injunction to stop construction at the site, saying the Kialegee don't have the authority to build there because the site lies within the boundaries of the Muscogee Creek Nation.

The defense called only two witnesses before wrapping up Thursday afternoon. Closing statements are scheduled for early Friday in Tulsa federal court. It is unclear whether Frizzell will issue an opinion from the bench or take the matter under advisement.

The land is currently owned by two sisters who have attempted to transfer the parcel to the tribe. However, a district judge has refused to approve the transaction, deferring instead to the federal government to determine whether the land can be leased.

The Kialegee, who are based in Wetumpka in southeastern Oklahoma, broke ground on the Red Clay Casino site near the Creek Turnpike late last year and have trucked in several pre fabricated buildings in recent weeks to temporarily house slot machines.

The tribe plans to open its casino this summer in the trailers and says a permanent facility will be built next year. But it has yet to win approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the National Indian Gaming Commission to allow it to conduct gaming at the site.

Defense attorneys aimed to show the Kialegee share jurisdiction over the land with the much-larger Muscogee Creek Nation and support the tribe's claim that it doesn't need a determination from the National Indian Gaming Commission on whether it can put up a casino or not.

To bolster that argument, the tribe's lawyers called Minnesota attorney Tom Foley, an expert on Indian gaming law, to explain why it's not out of the ordinary if there appears to be silence from the gaming commission on this type of project.

"It normally means they don't see any problems with the petition before them," Foley testified. "It doesn't mean they're not reviewing the particular matter before them."

The defense team also called Miami-based attorney Luis Figueredo, who represents the casino's developers. He detailed a series of amicable meetings he had with Broken Arrow's city staff during 2011 and said there was no pushback- which has been suggested by opponents who say the construction came as a shock to many in the town of 99,000 earlier this year.

The town king, Tiger Hobia, has said the casino would give the tribe its only chance to provide programs for its impoverished members. Sixty-five percent of tribal members are unemployed, he said, and more than 90 percent of those who are employed earn minimum wage.

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