Glendale Officials Acknowledge Accepting Gifts from Tribe ahead of Land Sale Vote

Glendale, Arizona officials admitted to accepting gifts from the Tohono O’odham Nation as the City Council approved late last month the sale of a portion of land to the tribe near the site where it is currently building a $400-million casino.

The Arizona Republic reported that Glendale Council Members Ian Hugh and Jamie Aldama had previously accepted pricey gifts from tribal officials. The two officials acknowledged that they had been treated to certain gifts by the Tohono O’odham Nation and said that they did not see anything wrong with that and that was why they had added information about the gifts in question to public records. The two Council Members also pointed out that they had not known that a land vote would take place at the time they had accepted the gifts.

The Arizona Republic reported citing information it has obtained under the Arizona Public Records Law that Mr. Aldama had been gifted tickets for the Final Four game in the spring of 2017, which he had attended with his son and Tohono O’odham officials. As for Mr. Hugh, he was reported to have attended an Arizona Cardinals game with his wife and tribal officials. Speaking to The Arizona Republic, the official said that he could not remember what month exactly they had gone to watch the game. According to the newspaper, the tickets had been worth over $500.

Edward Manuel, Chairman of the tribe, said ahead of last month’s land vote they wanted a working relationship with the city and surrounding communities. The pricey tickets were apparently part of building that relationship, local news outlets have pointed out in several opinion pieces.

City Councilors accepting the gifts drew quite some criticism and suggestions that these could have influenced the land vote.

Commenting on the matter, Arizona Center for Law and Public Interest Daniel Adelmaln that gifts of this type usually aim to influence officials and their opinion on one matter or another.

Land Sale Deal

The Glendale City Council approved late last month the sale of 11 acres of land near the site where the Tohono O’odham Nation is building its Desert Diamond Casino. The deal, valued at $3.1 million, would secure the tribe’s ownership over the land surrounding the site of its gambling venue.

The Tohono O’odham previously purchased 54 acres of land to build the property. Including the 11 acres it was given the green light to buy, the tribe now has another 88 acres of nearby land for future development. Tribal officials have not specified what that land would be used for, but have stressed that no gambling facilities would be developed on it.

Tohono O’odham broke ground on what would be a $400-million Class III casino late in 2017 after years of legal challenges stemming from Glendale officials and residents questioning the tribe’s right to build a gaming venue on the portion of land near the city.

Under a 2002 amendment to state laws, tribes were exclusively authorized to operate casinos across the state on reservation land. Under a separate, federal, law from 1986, the tribe was given $30 million and the permission to buy replacement land in the Maricopa, Pinal, or Pima counties as a compensation for 10,000 acres of reservation land it lost due to a flooding of a federal dam project.

Tohono O’odham bought 135 acres near Glendale in 2003 under a corporate alias. It revealed the true ownership of the portion of land in 2009 when it turned to the Department of the Interior with a request to be allowed to add the property to its existing reservation.

The tribe also asked to use 53.5 acres of that land to build a casino. That request unlocked multiple lawsuits spanning years. The legal battles came to an end last year when tribal and Glendale officials reached an agreement, allowing the tribe to build its casino.

As mentioned above, construction work began late last year. The casino is expected to be completed in December 2019.

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