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Arrest hurts tribe's image

Bob Pratte October 27, 2009 By BOB PRATTE Press-Enterprise

Federal indictments against Robert Salgado Sr. for allegedly accepting bribes will cause more problems than the legal troubles ahead for the 67-year-old tribal chairman of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians.

His Friday arrest following an FBI investigation created a public relations obstacle in the tribe's attempt to transfer 535 acres of golf course land into the Soboba Indian Reservation to build a resort casino near San Jacinto.

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors and the San Jacinto City Council already voted to oppose the land transfer of the Country Club at Soboba and property where the tribe would like to build a new casino with a hotel up to four stories.

County supervisors want to study the proposal with tribal members to determine the effect of a casino on the area before lending their support. Public favor figures to be crucial to gain required federal Department of Interior approval.

The tribe, working hard to foster a good image, donated about $4 million to San Jacinto Valley community causes like the Ramona Bowl, the Hemet Library and Western Science Center. Rose Salgado, a member of the Soboba Tribal Council and the arrested chairman's sister, devotes her life to considerable community involvement.

Tribal members reached a public-relations high in April 2008 when they dedicated first-class renovations of the Soboba golf course and clubhouse that they purchased. It was an impressive demonstration of a tasteful building style that could be continued at the new casino.

Trouble followed the very next month. Riverside County sheriff's deputies were involved in two shootings on the reservation that left three tribal members dead.

Robert Salgado created hard feelings when he was critical of the deputies' actions in the shootings even though an assault rife was pointed at them in the first incident, an investigation concluded. Deputies reported they were under fire in the second. Salgado created controversy when he initiated a short-lived policy that deputies needed permission before entering the reservation.

The tribe recently spent more than $1 million to stage the successful, nationally televised Soboba Classic, a highlight on the PGA's Nationwide Tour. It was another example of the quality of the plans tribal officials have when proposing to build a luxury resort casino.

The goodwill created by the early-October tournament was followed by Salgado's Friday arrest on charges that he accepted $250,000 in bribes that he required of four vendors seeking contracts with the casino, marring community relations efforts.

I understand why some people who live just off the reservation and near the golf course are opposed to a new casino. They don't want a busy resort as a neighbor.

The reality, though, is that there always will be a casino in their neighborhood -- either the old, close-by existing compound of prefab buildings or a new, tasteful destination golf resort with an indoor theater for major concerts.

The tribe is not proposing to add additional gaming machines and plans to close the old casino.

I think the new casino is the better alternative and would create a regional entertainment and lodging facility for residents of the San Jacinto Valley.

Salgado's legal trouble is an obstacle. It is important to remember that the allegations are not proven and the accused Salgado is one person, not the entire tribe.

The biggest victims will be tribal members if Salgado's legal problems hinder a new casino.

Reach Bob Pratte at 951-763-3452, [email protected] or 474 W. Esplanade Ave., San Jacinto, CA 92583.

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