Suspected Mescalero's Chino of Slot ScamFBI Suspected
Mescalero's Chino of Slot Scam
Thursday, May 24, 2001
By Larry Barker
KOAT Investigative Reporter
Newly released FBI documents show Mescalero
Apache leader Wendell Chino was being investigated for possible
tax evasion, embezzlement and money laundering at the time of his
About 1,000 pages from Chino's FBI file were
released to KOAT-TV in Albuquerque under the federal Freedom of
The documents show Chino first came under FBI
scrutiny in December 1995 after he made a series of sizable cash
"The primary thrust of this investigation
is the alleged violations of tax fraud and tax evasion,"
according to an FBI report dated September 1996.
"There is speculation as to embezzlement
from tribal funds as being the primary source of income which
sustains the gambling habits of captioned subjects," the
Documents in FBI investigation files include
unconfirmed statements, allegations and opinions.
"No one should assume Mr. Chino did or
didn't commit a crime because this matter had not even reached a
point where the United States attorney had determined if he wanted
to present it to a grand jury, let alone have an indictment
returned," said former U.S. Attorney John Kelly.
Chino was leader of the Mescalero Apaches for
more than 40 years. He died of a heart attack in November 1998
while running on a treadmill in a California health spa.
FBI informants claimed Chino won tens of
thousands of dollars at the Mescalero slot machines.
According to documents in the file, one
unidentified source told the FBI, "Chino is a constant winner
at the slot machines in the casino (Casino Apache). Whenever Chino
comes to the casino to gamble he calls the casino before he comes
and upon his arrival is escorted to certain slot machines which
have been altered. It is at these machines that Chino wins a lot
The Albuquerque Journal reported in March 1999
that Chino and wife Rita cashed in slot-machine jackpots and
credits of more than $270,000 at the casino in 1997 and 1998.
The documents obtained by the Journal didn't
show how much the Chinos had wagered on the machines, making it
impossible to determine whether the couple won or lost over the
FBI spokesman Doug Beldon said the
investigation of Chino was shut down four months after his death.
Although there were other subjects under
investigation, the U.S. attorney ended the investigation because
it had "not produced evidence sufficient to file criminal
In May 1996, one FBI agent noted in the file
that "much more investigation has to be done to determine if
Chino is involved in embezzlement. We have to work on that
reservation every day. We have to be certain that we have an
excellent case before we execute any search warrants
and possibly incur hostile reactions from tribal members."
The FBI files show agents had Chino and other
individuals under surveillance and their telephone records were
scrutinized during the four-year probe.
Agents found the powerful Mescalero leader
traveled on average three times a month to Las Vegas, Nev., in the
tribe's Lear Jet.
One agent wrote in 1996, "The goal of this
investigation is to prove that captioned subjects are skimming
funds from the tribe's gambling operation, traveling to Las Vegas
with the cash and gambling the funds away."
In September 1996, records show, the U.S.
Attorney's Office prepared search warrants seeking evidence in the
According to the released documents, "The
main focus of the searches will be business records and gambling
records indicating tax evasion, failure to report income and/or
embezzlement from a tribal organization."
But federal prosecutors put the search warrants
on hold in early 1997; they were never served.
This article was prepared by KOAT-TV investigative reporter Larry
Barker and Target Seven producer Charles