Tribe Sued Over Casino Housing Deal

Published on June 5, 2006
© 2007- The Press Democrat

A lawsuit filed by four members of the Dry Creek Rancheria says the tribe didn’t live up to a promise to relocate them when they left their homes so the River Rock Casino could be built.

One plaintiff claims her home was demolished to make way for a parking lot.

In a suit filed in Sonoma County Superior Court last month, Melissa Russ, Karen Casillas, Katherine Casillas Somersall and Yolanda Casillas Somersall say the tribe breached agreements to provide them permanent housing after they agreed to move.

The suit seeks undisclosed monetary damages, including punitive damages “sufficient to punish (the) defendants.” The tribe’s response to the allegations is due in July.

In addition to the tribe, the casino’s parent company, Dry Creek Casino, and its development partner, Nevada Gold & Casinos, are named as defendants.

Tribal leaders and their lawyers did not respond to messages seeking comment Friday.

In the suit, the plaintiffs claim that in the spring of 2002, they agreed to participate in the tribe’s housing relocation program as it prepared to develop a casino on its land in Alexander Valley.

They were told the property they were living on was “designated for tribal economic development,” the suit says.

They said they signed contracts that conveyed their land and homes to the tribe in exchange for the tribe promising to help relocate them into permanent housing, including costs up to $400,000 each.

Karen Casillas said she was promised permanent housing within two months and moved into a temporary mobile home elsewhere on the reservation.

But a year later, she said she was forced off the reservation by Coyote Valley tribal police and River Rock security, “while a construction crew waited to demolish her home,” according to the suit.

She claims she was given three hours to move and was forced to leave many of her possessions, which were destroyed by the wrecking crew. She said the site of her home became a casino parking lot.

“The casino and gaming project, a multimillion-dollar investment of the tribe, is located directly on top of the land where the homes of Melissa, Karen, Katherine and Yolanda were located, leaving Yolanda and the other plaintiffs homeless,” the suit alleges.

When the women asked about potential homes during the past three years, they were told, the suit alleges, the tribe didn’t have any money for them, said their attorney, Richard Sax of Santa Rosa.

“They’re telling us they’ve run out of money, which I don’t understand,” he said. “At the same time, they’re building a hotel and talking about buying land in Petaluma.”

In December 2005, each of the women met with the tribe’s board of directors to discuss their relocation status. They were notified, according to letters filed with the suit, that their three-year contracts were up and the tribe’s financial commitments would soon be completed.

According to the letters, Russ had received $112,500, Karen Casillas $164,250, Katherine Casillas Somersall $117,500 and Yolanda Casillas Somersall $118,225 for temporary housing expenses. Katherine Casillas Somersall and Yolanda Casillas Somersall are Karen Casillas’ adult daughters.

Sax said the women primarily want the homes the tribe promised.

The 900-member Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians opened River Rock, Sonoma County’s only casino, in September 2002 on the tribe’s 75-acre reservation on Highway 128 east of Geyserville.

It has grown into a 62,000-square-foot facility with 1,600 slot and video poker machines, two dozen table games, restaurants, lounges and bars. The 24-hour, seven-day-a-week operation employs more than 700 full- and part-time workers.

Casino revenue hit a record $139 million in 2005, with $18 million in profits for its operators. Of that, the tribe received $11.2 million for its own programs, according to a report to investors last month.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 568-5312 or