Money that should have gone to tribal members was siphoned off through illegal operation of a smoke shop, through numerous predatory real estate deals and outright skimming of cash, Stillaguamish attorneys contend.
On Thursday, they filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Seattle, claiming that the tribe has been the victim of racketeering.
Among the defendants are Ed and Linda Goodridge and their son Eddie Goodridge Jr. The Goodridge men are former tribal leaders, now serving federal prison sentences, after admitting to a scheme to sell contraband cigarettes at the Blue Stilly Smoke Shop on the Stillaguamish Reservation.
That smoke shop scam cost the tribes at least $26 million, the lawsuit says. It also alleges the Goodridges got plenty of help.
Among the more than a dozen other named defendants are David L. Nelson of Stanwood and Nathan W. Chapman of Mill Creek.
The pair are accused of not only initially bankrolling the Goodridge family’s illegal smoke shop operation, but also arranging numerous land and business deals that were unfair to the tribes.
Nelson didn’t return a phone call. He told The Herald last fall that he was given direction to pursue buying almost any piece of land within the tribe’s historic boundaries. The plan was to build an entire city, he said.
But the tribes broke ties with Nelson and insisted his businesses move off tribal land after the Goodridges pleaded guilty to the federal charges, he said.
His work and all the deals he partnered with Eddie Goodridge Jr. were intended to benefit tribal members, Nelson told The Herald.
“This is heartbreaking to me,” he said at the time.
Between 2002 and 2008, Nelson and Chapman helped arrange real estate deals that led the tribe to purchase 677 acres in north Snohomish County.
The tribe paid $32.9 million for land that actually was worth about $22 million, the lawsuit says. In some transactions, the defendants allegedly bought the land themselves, ahead of time, and then inflated the price when they sold it to the tribe.
“The inflated prices constitute a loss to the Tribe, and unjustly enriched Nelson and/or Chapman in the form of inflated real estate commissions,” wrote Alexandra Smith, an attorney from Seattle who represents the tribe.
The lawsuit says the tribe has had to spend considerable time and money responding to two federal subpoenas that are part of an apparent ongoing criminal investigations into the cigarette trafficking case and other alleged misconduct.
The tribe has its own investigation that has turned up evidence of suspected theft, bribery, money laundering and securities fraud, court papers show.
The lawsuit also alleges misdeeds in financing for the tribal-owned methadone clinic and in the transactions that cleared the way for the Stillaguamish to build their Angel of the Winds casino on land that formerly was used for tribal housing.
Members of the 28 tribal families who had to move to make room for the casino claim they were told they must work with Nelson as the real estate agent who would find them new homes, purchased by the Tribal Housing Authority.
Nelson billed the tribe for inspections that allegedly weren’t done. People found themselves living with leaking roofs and failing septic systems.
“The Tribe suffered injury as a result of these material defects,” the lawsuit said. “Because of the undiscovered defects, the houses were worth less than the tribe paid for them, and some of the needed repairs were paid for by the Tribe.”
The tribe also brought a separate lawsuit Thursday, suing Nelson, Chapman and others over operation of Standard Biodiesel USA Inc. The complaint alleges that spills of waste cooking oil and petroleum products at the plant west of Arlington have contaminated tribal land.
Emily Langley, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle, on Friday declined to comment on whether a federal grand jury is still investigating. All grand jury investigations are confidential, she said.
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