Judicial Watch • Indian Tribe Shields Criminals With Sovereign Immunity

Indian Tribe Shields Criminals With Sovereign Immunity

Indian Tribe Shields Criminals With Sovereign Immunity

AUGUST 12, 2010

 

A wealthy and politically-connected Florida Indian tribe notorious for abusing its sovereignty to protect members that commit serious crimes is finally under court-order to cooperate in a criminal investigation that could put its leader in jail.

Known for its many unpunished transgressions, the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians has been ordered by a federal judge to turn over credit-card records for an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) probe into a multi million-dollar spending spree by its onetime chairman, Billy Cypress. Authorities say Cypress illegally spent $3 million in Las Vegas and other casinos.

A few years ago when Cypress was still Miccosukee chairman, he nearly killed a non-Indian couple after crashing his car into theirs on a state road. Immune from white man’s justice, a hokey tribal court, based on ancient customs and traditions, acquitted him.

His financial investigation stems from an ongoing probe into the tribe’s distribution of up to $10 million in cash from its lucrative gambling operations to hundreds of Indians who don’t report the money as taxable income. Authorities say Cypress “misappropriated” the tribe’s money for his personal use, including making “high-end purchases,” without reporting the income.

Several years ago federal officials requested the tribe’s financial records but, as it normally does to dodge legal battles, the tribe confidently invoked its status as a sovereign nation. It means that the tribe is self-governed, completely independent and protected from any sort of government intervention. Its members are therefore immune from U.S. justice, even when they commit serious crimes outside the reservation against non-Indians.

In the last few years Miccosukee Indians have literally gotten away with murder, felony assault and drunken driving outside tribal land. The stories have been widely covered by local media and frustrated county prosecutors have expressed outrage that the tribe is untouchable. That’s why this week’s decision was met with disbelief.

A federal judge in Miami actually rejected the tribe’s demand to quash the IRS summons in this case under sovereign immunity. In his ruling the judge pointed out that the U.S. government has “superior sovereign powers” and that the tribe is attempting to use sovereign immunity as a shield to protect a limited class of records from the scrutiny of the United States.


 

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