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 Sandia Casino Chief Inspector Fired

The Albuquerque Journal, in an article by Mike Gallagher on Wednesday, January 12, 2000 published an account of the firing of former chief inspector Patricia Miskovich after she reported finding that 34 casino employees had criminal histories.

The Journal article reports, "Patricia Miskovich said she had reported her findings and, acting on the commission's orders, had initiated action to terminate the employees when she was fired in October.

'They just don't want to be regulated,' Miskovich said in an interview this week.

Many of the employees with criminal records ultimately lost their gaming licenses, which are issued by the tribal commission, and as a result lost their casino jobs.

A tribal spokeswoman said the fact the gaming licenses were revoked shows Sandia is trying to run a professional casino.
Spokeswoman Stephine Poston also disputed Miskovich's charge that the pueblo didn't want to be regulated.

'Absolutely not,' Poston said Tuesday. "We take our compliance responsibilities very seriously. We are committed to upholding our obligation to our guests, Sandia Pueblo and the surrounding community."

Poston said Miskovich was fired for "other internal reasons." She declined to elaborate, saying it was a personnel matter.

Miskovich, who worked for Sandia for 18 months, said her review of employee files turned up problems other than criminal records.

The casino, which had net revenues of $57 million in 1997, has about 800 employees. Miskovich said background investigations had been completed on about half of them.

She said that in addition to the 34 with felony and misdemeanor convictions, she found 38 employees had arrests or charges filed against them that they failed to disclose to the tribe; and more than 100 had a
history of bad credit.

The tribe's gaming regulations prohibit the hiring of
felons and people convicted of some misdemeanors.

'The federal government in many ways treats Indian casinos like banks,' Miskovich said. 'Do you want people with financial problems handling money?'

Miskovich said some of the people with financial background problems were dealers or worked as cashiers. Miskovich says she found other problems:
* The casino may have received slot machines illegally and failed to keep proper records of the transactions;
* The casino sold used slot machines without following federal laws by selling them without notifying the Tribal Gaming Commission, or the Department of Justice;
* The casino didn't investigate unusual fluctuations in gaming income as required by tribal ordinances -- investigations designed to show whether the casino was being defrauded.

'There was a lot of stuff,' Miskovich said. 'Sometimes it was simple things like not properly handling keys; not securing the dice or cards at the gaming tables; not keeping the proper paperwork on the slot machines.'

Miskovich said audits frequently revealed the casino wasn't complying with its own procedures.

'It didn't matter what we looked at -- slots, cage and vault, table games.

Sudden turnabout
Miskovich, who has a bachelor's degree in criminal justice and worked as a caseworker at the state prison in Santa Fe, said she never worried about job security.

She said she was ordered to revoke the licenses by the Tribal Gaming Commission, which then had second thoughts.
She began to review the license files after a former employee complained that the commission staff wasn't doing its job.

'I did a random sample of the 400 licenses for which there were background investigations -- FBI rap sheets, credit reports,' Miskovich said.

She said she found about 50 percent of the first 40 files she reviewed showed there were problems.

'In September we looked at all 400 files," she said. "We did nothing else.'

On Sept. 28, 1999, the full commission voted to revoke the gaming licenses of 72 employees -- the 34 employees who had criminal convictions and 38 who had not disclosed prior criminal charges on their applications for employment.

On Oct. 5, 1999, Miskovich met with the first 25 employees individually and explained the reasons their gaming licenses were being revoked.

'I also explained their rights to a hearing,' she said.
On Oct. 6, 1999, the Sandia lieutenant governor, chief of police, Human Resources director and general manager entered her office at approximately 8:30 a.m.

'They asked me where the files were and they gave me a letter ordering me to halt all license revocations and surrender all files,' Miskovich said. 'No one would tell me what was going on.'

According to records, the casino general manager and the pueblo's human resources director then reviewed the files and argued that the employees shouldn't be fired.

Most of the revocations eventually were upheld.
The 38 employees who had not disclosed prior arrests or criminal charges were allowed, in some cases, to correct the oversight.

Miskovich was put on administrative leave and fired by the Sandia Tribal Council on Oct. 22, 1999.

'You know, I never did anything, took any action unless I had the approval of the tribal gaming commission or the chairman, Patrick Baca,' Miskovich said.

Baca didn't return a telephone call on Tuesday. His office referred questions to Poston.

Miskovich, who declined to be photographed for this story, said she has forwarded her concerns about Sandia to the state Gaming Control Board and the National Indian Gaming Commission.

Janet Jessup, executive director of the state Gaming Control Board, said Tuesday she couldn't confirm or deny the board is investigating Sandia Casino or Miskovich's allegations.

The state board inspected two Indian casinos recently and is scheduled to inspect Sandia Casino at the end of the month.
A telephone call to the National Indian Gaming Commission was not returned Tuesday.

There are three levels of oversight for Indian casinos -- a tribal gaming commission, the state gaming board and the National Indian Gaming Commission." The Journal didn't mention that there are only a handful of federal investigators, and that the state does virtually nothing to regulate tribal gambling.
The article continues, "The state gaming board's regulatory authority was established by the gaming compacts, which are being renegotiated. The tribes and the state are in arbitration over the current compacts.

'This (the allegations) comes at a very difficult time for us,' Poston said. 'We are in the middle of negotiating new compacts.'

Jessup said Sandia in recent months has been slow in forwarding employee background investigations to the state board.

'We have sent them a letter about this,' Jessup said.
'We've been having a similar situation with other Indian casinos,' she said. "Tribes say they are concerned about the confidentiality of any records they turn over to us.'

Poston confirmed the tribe received a notice of possible violation from the National Indian Gaming Commission last year over the way criminal history information was being handled.

'We responded right away with corrective plans,' Poston said."

As with all of the revelations of casino corruption that have surfaced because of internal conflicts in the Sandia, the Santa Anna, the Jicarilla and the Mescallero casinos, there has been NO information that has been released about investigations by federal or state authorities, and all of the alleged wrongdoings have gone unpunished.