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A man plays slots at the Wind River Hotel and Casino in Riverton in 2014. Two members of the Northern Arapaho Business Council and two former casino managers are suing the tribe's new law firm.

Two Northern Arapaho leaders and two former casino managers have accused the tribe’s new law firm of orchestrating a hostile takeover of tribal and gaming affairs, as well as firing employees who either questioned orders they believed to be illegal or reported complaints about the tribe’s chairman, Lee Spoonhunter.

In a lawsuit filed Friday in Wyoming’s Ninth District Court, the four — Northern Arapaho Business Council members Anthony "Al" Addison and Samuel Dresser, former casino human resources manager Rosella Morin and former casino CFO Faith Wallowing Bull — accused the tribe’s current law firm, Atlanta-based Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, and several of its attorneys of influencing a majority of the council to allow it to seize control of the tribal and casino affairs.

Wyoming attorney Adam Phillips was also named as a defendant. 

The lawsuit also accused the firm of controlling the casino enterprise's new leadership team, who they say improperly fired Wallowing Bull and Morin, both tribal citizens.  

Northern Arapaho suit against former law firm illustrates tribal leadership divide

“Under the deceptive guise of championing the tribe’s sovereignty, KTS … planned and executed a scheme to usurp de facto control over the tribe, the NABC, and the casinos,” the lawsuit read. “As a result, the tribe’s sovereignty has been sacrificed at the whim and will of KTS.”

The firm denied the allegations on Friday evening but otherwise declined an interview request because of pending litigation.

“What we can say is that the plaintiff's allegations are groundless and without merit,” said Keith Harper, a partner at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton and one of the attorneys listed as a defendant. “We intend to defend vigorously.”

The Northern Arapaho manages the flagship Wind River Hotel and Casino — Fremont County’s largest employer — located outside Riverton, the 789 Smokeshop and Casino in Riverton and the Little Wind Casino in Ethete. Combined, the three comprise the tribe's most important economic asset.

Friday’s lawsuit is another instance of a long-simmering divide on the tribe’s business council that’s now spilled into the courts.

It also follows a lawsuit the firm filed Monday against the tribe’s former longtime law firm, Baldwin, Crocker & Rudd, accusing the Lander-based firm of excessive charges, withholding tribal trust money and not returning legal documents.

Baldwin, Crocker & Rudd have denied the allegations.

The latest lawsuit claims that Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton maneuvered to insert itself as the tribe’s law firm after it was hired without business council approval to evaluate former casino CEO Jim Conrad, whose contract expired on June 30.

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Gaming industry veteran Brian Van Enkenvoort was chosen to serve as the CEO of the Wind River Hotel and Casino and related enterprises, with Northern Arapaho Tribe member and former casino employee David “Ron” McElroy working as deputy CEO. The suit said the Atlanta firm handpicked Enkenvoort and McElroy. 

Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton also refused to address conflict of interest concerns raised by the tribe’s old law firm and then drafted a resolution for the business council to approve by a 4-2 vote May 20, rescinding the tribe’s conflict of interest rules and inoculating the firm going forward, the lawsuit alleges.

In letters to Baldwin, Crocker & Rudd and a previous statement from Charlie Galbraith, a partner in the Atlanta firm, Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton dismissed any concerns over conflicts of interest.

The lawsuit also contends that Addison and Dresser have been wrongfully excluded from, by not being told of, business council meetings where casino issues were addressed or voted on. 

Among the examples, according to the lawsuit: During a June 6 meeting, the council voted 3-2 to renew Conrad's contract. Spoonhunter then cast the tying vote and adjourned the meeting for another night as a ruse to get Addison and Dresser to leave, the suit alleges. Spoonhunter then allegedly restarted the meeting after they left, voting to approve resolutions the Atlanta firm had drafted, such as a new legal code and a resolution to not renew Conrad's contract. 

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A representative of the firm also allegedly impersonated a federal gaming official to confiscate casino records and financial documents, according to the lawsuit, after allegedly filing a bogus complaint with the National Indian Gaming Commission, the government’s tribal gaming regulator, to further the firm's case for enmeshing itself in the tribe’s affairs.

According to the lawsuit, Wallowing Bull was fired by the casino's new leadership in retaliation for resisting efforts by the business council and the Atlanta firm to control the casinos, including attempts to pay for “sponsorships” to “individual groups” with casino money, which Wallowing Bull believed would violate federal tribal gaming regulations.

The lawsuit also alleged that last month Van Enckenvoort fired Morin, the former casino human resources manager, in retaliation for forwarding an employee complaint of sexual harassment and physically violent threats against Spoonhunter. In that complaint, which was included with the lawsuit, the employee said Spoonhunter sent her threatening and harassing texts in June because she was with someone Spoonhunter didn’t want her being around.

Morin forwarded the complaint to the tribe’s human resources director and CC’d the other five business council members. Copies of Spoonhunter’s texts were provided in the lawsuit.

Spoonhunter admitted to and apologized for making the comments, according to a letter from him included in the lawsuit.

“I believe strongly that if someone wrongs another, they should state their contrition and apologize,” he wrote. “So I want to take a moment to reiterate my apology to you for sending what were clearly less than respectful messages to you early in the morning of June 4. I have no excuse for my action and I take full responsibility for sending the messages.”

Morin and Wallowing Bull said they were told they were fired because they were at-will employees and didn’t have rights. Both former managers have appealed their firings, claiming that they had employment contracts with the casino.

The four have asked to be awarded damages of at least $50,000, punitive damages and attorney fees.

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Follow reporter Chris Aadland on Twitter @cjaadland

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Chris Aadland covers the Wind River Reservation and tribal affairs for the Star-Tribune as a Report for America corps member. A Minnesota native, he spent the last two years reporting for the Wisconsin State Journal before moving to Wyoming in June 2019.

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