The Day on 14 May 2000

Without Apology

by Jeff Benedict

“Is this true?”

Without Apology

Since the release of “Without Reservation,” I’ve been repeatedly asked that question in relation to the book’s two key revelations: (1) that Congress never examined any genealogical evidence before declaring Richard “Skip” Hayward and his extended family a federal Indian tribe, and (2) that Congress was unaware that the map accompanying the 1983 Settlement Act was manipulated to make an additional 1,000 acres along Route 2 eligible for trust acquisition.

The Pequots’ public relations staff has complained about my book’s narrative style. And the tribe’s number-one sycophant, Timothy Love, has publicly accused me of being part of a “conspiracy” with local town leaders to undermine the Mashantuckets.

Meanwhile, not a single politician who participated in the Pequots’ recognition process has stepped forward to challenge the book’s two central allegations. That’s because evidence in the form of House and Senate hearing transcripts from 1982 and 1983 support my conclusions. The debate about truth can be solved by simply consulting the documents.

I am also on record saying that my research turned up no discernible evidence that the contemporary Pequots have a genealogical link to the historic Pequot tribe. Last week on these pages, Day Projects Editor Maria Hileman said that my conclusions about the Pequots’ genealogy are “based on a single birth certificate that may not even relate to one of its ancestors.” Does she really believe that HarperCollins, my publisher, would stand behind an author who based his entire argument on one birth certificate? Not hardly.

Nor, as Hileman suggested, did I fail to sufficiently research the Wheeler line as a possible link between the old and new Pequots. My common-sense question to Hileman is this: if the Mashantuckets and their staff of genealogists are so confident that the Wheeler line links them to historic Pequot ancestry, why didn’t they expose that information to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for scrutiny in 1982? And why won’t they produce that evidence now?

The Pequots can put the genealogy questions to rest by merely opening up their records for review. What can’t be put to rest, however, is the fact that none of the 650-plus people living at Mashantucket today can honestly assert that they were living and functioning as a cohesive tribal entity in 10973, when the reservation was vacant. Nor can the tribe, or more particularly its lawyers, refute that the 1083 settlement map was drawn in a manner that deceived both the Ledyard landowners and the Congress. And this raises an entirely different set of legal and political questions, ones that are far more threatening to the tribe and its casino.

U.S. Rep. Sam Gejdenson is on the record more than once during Senate and House hearings saying that the Settlement Act was adding 800 acres to what was then a 214-acre reservation. This begs the question: Why does the map accompanying the bill reflect a 2,000 acre reservation? The answer to this question taken on added significance given that Foxwoods sits on the additional acreage that was deceptively roped into the settlement area, land that was not part of the Pequot reservation and had no relation whatsoever to the lawsuit that Congress was attempting to settle.

This inconsistency, coupled with glaring questions about the contemporary tribe’s legitimacy, provides the Congress ample grounds to revisit the Settlement Act. Here’s why: The contemporary Pequot tribe is a product of a federal statute. Its legal right to exist as a sovereign nation and operate the world’s biggest casino hinges solely and directly on the 1983 Settlement Act. Further, the land on which it is entitled to operate its gambling business free of state and local regulations and taxes is defined in the statute. The statute is the result of a settlement reached by two parties to a lawsuit, the Ledyard landowners and the tribe. Settlements to lawsuits are written contracts. And contracts that are induced by fraud can be voided.

There is no question that the Ledyard landowners agreed to settle without any knowledge of the map. The most crucial document in the Settlement Act, a visual representation of what the future reservation would look like, was withheld from the defendants. As longtime Ledyard residents, they would have immediately recognized the peculiar boundary lines drawn on the settlement map. Congress, on the other hand, saw the map, but had no idea that it reflected 2,000 acres, since the bill accompanying it refers to “800 acres.”

The tribe and its legion of lawyers certainly understand the implications of these facts. Perhaps that’s why they’ve been so quiet about the map, choosing instead to criticize me for writing in my book that the Mystic River dumps into the Atlantic Ocean, as opposed to Fishers Island Sound. (I guess it depends on how you interpret the map.)

By way of full disclosure, I admit that after working on this book for the past two years I developed tremendous respect and appreciation for the people of North Stonington, Preston and Ledyard. I trudged through manure with Cliff Allen on his 300-acre farm; rode in the cab of former mayor Joe Lozier’s pickup truck while he took me through the backwoods of Ledyard; ate some wonderful meals at the diner owned by the Preston’s former first selectman, Parke Spicer; and bit my lip as Wendel Comrie shed tears at his kitchen table while recalling his mother’s last words.

Did these people impact my writing? Of course they did. But did the towns put me up to this book in hopes that I would undermine the Mashantuckets, as Timothy Love suggests? Anyone who believes that has been watching too many Oliver Stone movies.

I’m an investigative reporter who’s in the business of digging up information and writing books. If my priority were to help the towns in their legal battles, I would have shared with the towns’ Washington lawyers Perkins Coie some of the abundant information I discovered that did not make its way into the book. Here’s just one small example.

While researching “Without Reservation,” I was puzzled by Chairman Kenneth Reels’ decision to throw financial and political backing behind the Eastern Pequots in their attempt to gain federal recognition.

On the surface Reels’ decision to fund a potential business competitor made no sense. Then I came across a letter dated Aug. 6, 1996. Eastern Pequot chairman Roy Sebastian wrote it to Reels. “My hope is that you will become an advocate for the Eastern Pequot tribe in our effort to achieve Federal Acknowledgement,” Sebastian wrote. “I am convinced that once Acknowledgement is gained, we can be helpful to you in terms of your further economic development and financial strength, as we establish similar bases for ourselves.”

The letter goes on to explain just what Sebastian had in mind. “Know that you have a strong ally in us and we are willing to share with you some of the advantages that result from our positioning, e.g. our ability to exercise multiple site, multiple state land claims and place that land in trust,” Sebastian told Reels. “With us the number of industries we can command on impact become nearly limitless.”

What did Sebastian offer Reels in exchange for his help in getting recognized? “In return for your endorsement,” Sebastian wrote, “we are willing to develop a Compact with the State of Connecticut similar to your own and that of the Mohegan tribe, and importantly, grant to your tribe an ownership position in our management company, the First American Casino Corporation.”

Town leaders have been insisting that the eastern Pequots will build a casino if granted federal recognition. The Eastern Pequots’ attorney, Glenn T. Carberry, recently told the Day that it was premature to talk about casinos. Apparently his clients have been talking about casinos with the Mashantuckets for four years. If my mission were to aid the towns, I would have previously disclosed this letter and a wealth of other information pertinent to the current tribal recognition petitions.

That said, I agree with the towns’ position that the Interior Department should put the brakes on the recognition process, one that has become synonymous with casino expansion. And Congress should launch an investigation into the validity of the Mashantucket Pequots and the 1983 Settlement Act.

Do I really think that Congress will take such a step? Absolutely. And for those skeptics who say, “Never in a million years,” here’s a question for you: What would you have said in 1973 if someone told you that one day the biggest casino in the world and a tribe of 650 Pequots would exist in the woods of Ledyard?