Weeks after a Los Angeles judge threw out 23 of the 24 counts against the managers of the Morongo tribal casino, federal prosecutors have agreed to dismissal of the final charge--while they appeal the earlier ruling.
Although the action left prosecutors with the option of reviving the case, the dropping of the last count--charging the casino's non-Indian managers with possessing illegal slot machines in the casino west of Palm Springs--was applauded by defense attorneys as an exoneration of the defendants.
Richard P. Crane Jr., who represented the casino's management firm, E. C. Investments, derided the prosecution as "a heavy-handed effort by the United States that unfairly exposed our clients to loss of their freedom."
The prosecution had billed the indictment as the start of a crackdown on electronic slot machines used in California's tribal gambling halls. But it suffered a setback in October, when U.S. District Judge Richard A. Gadbois Jr. dismissed the 23 counts against the managers of the Morongo casino that were based on the powerful federal Organized Crime Control Act.
In a complex opinion, Gadbois ruled out use of that act because it targets groups that engage in gambling that is illegal under state law. Although the California Penal Code "bans slot machines without exception," the judge said, the public policy of California is to permit many forms of gambling--thus undercutting the state's right to impose criminal sanctions against tribal gambling operations.
In asking for dismissal of the remaining slot machine count, Assistant U.S. Atty. Jonathan Shapiro said the government preferred to complete its appeal of Gadbois' October decision.
The original indictment did not target the Riverside County tribe, but charged the outside casino managers with offenses ranging from money laundering to interstate travel in aid of racketeering.
No longer facing the charges are E. C. Investments; its president, Ira Englander, and three others.