Judge rules against 4 Utah men claiming to be Indians
Paul Foy, Associated Press
Sunday, May 11, 2008
(05-11) 04:00 PDT Salt Lake City --
A federal judge ordered a $63,000 civil-fraud judgment against four people who claim to be chiefs of an American Indian tribe in eastern Utah.
The men, who got organized at an Arby's restaurant and claim to have hundreds of tribal members, refuse to recognize U.S or state laws, have issued their own driver's licenses and filed countless lawsuits against Utah authorities for ignoring their sovereignty.
In a decision Monday, after a trial last week, U.S. District Judge Stephen P. Friot ordered the men to stop pretending to be Indians and pay Uintah County damages. He called their tribe a complete sham.
The group calls itself the Wampanoag Nation, borrowing from the name of Mashpee Wampanoag Nation, a Massachusetts tribe that greeted the Pilgrims in 1620.
Officials of the federally recognized tribe told the Associated Press the Utah men were obvious impostors.
The tribe deals often with phony membership claims, said Gayle Andrews, a spokeswoman for the Mashpee-Wampanoag Nation.
It has strict rules of lineage dating to the 19th century. In the most feeble attempts to prove tribal affinity, others have offered pictures of their grandmothers dressed as Indian princesses, she said.
"A lot of white people are like, 'I'm Wampanoag,' " Andrews said. "But you can't just Google yourself into membership. It's not doable."
Members of the Utah group have challenged traffic stops and other encounters with authorities, filing a host of lawsuits and unenforceable debt judgments that soured the credit rating of at least one sheriff's deputy.
In one of its most audacious claims, the group recorded a $250 million debt against Uintah County Attorney JoAnn Stringham with a state agency.
Uintah County turned one of the bogus lawsuits into counterclaims for racketeering and fraud.
Friot said the four men and their organizations owe money to the county for damages caused by excessive litigation.
"They started playing this game in 2003, but we've been dealing with these guys for 25 years with their own sovereign city," said Ed Peterson, deputy county attorney.
"First, we walked into the U.S. attorney's office on this case and they said, 'Come on, these are a bunch of nuts.' But they wouldn't leave us alone," said Peterson, who credited attorney Jesse Trentadue with deciding to countersue for civil fraud.
The group's leader is Dale Stevens, 69, who lives without phone service in an unincorporated part of Uintah County. He claims a 13-acre patch to be sovereign.
"We're concerned about the judgment against the people of our tribe," said Martin Campbell, a retired 56-year-old mechanic, who claims to be law-enforcement minister for the Wampanoag Nation of Utah.
Campbell maintained he had some Indian blood but said none of the leaders or members ever offered proof of Indian ancestry.
The group has been unsuccessful in getting federal recognition as a tribe, he said.
Besides Stevens and Campbell, James W. Burbank and Thomas Smith are covered by the judge's order. They all represented themselves at trial.
Friot is a federal judge in Oklahoma who traveled to Utah to hear the case because federal judges here have been sued by Stevens.
This article appeared on page B - 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle