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Defendants In Chukchansi Case Take Plea Deals

MADERA COUNTY – The defendants in the Chukchansi takeover case were back in Madera Superior Court today as most of them accepted plea deals in the charges against them.

Tex McDonald agreed to plead guilty to the felony charge of false imprisonment, and accepted a sentence of 16 months.

He will be sentenced on July 2, and with time credit, may be close to his release date at that time. The D.A.’s Office does not anticipate McDonald being transferred to state prison, but serving any remaining time in the Madera County Department of Corrections.

Prosecutors also asked the judge not to impose a third strike on McDonald, due to the substantial length of time that has passed since his earlier conviction, but the judge has discretion on that issue at sentencing.

Vernon King was released from jail today on a supervised release. He didn’t post any bail, but rather will be monitored by the Probation Department, will not be allowed to leave the Madera/Fresno Counties’ jurisdiction, and must abide by certain conditions. King did not agree to the plea deal offered by the D.A., and will be back in court on May 29 to have a date set for his preliminary hearing.

John Oliveira, David Anderson, Tyrone Bishop and Eric Suniga all agreed to plead guilty to one count of misdemeanor trespass. Their plea deal is conditional on them abiding by certain terms of the agreement, including obeying all laws and staying off the Picayune Rancheria for a period of one year. At the end of that time, the judge will decide whether or not their convictions can be dismissed.

All charges against Miguel Ramos have been dropped. According to District Attorney David Linn, it was determined that, other than the fact that he was working at the casino, Ramos had a very low level of culpability, “didn’t do anything wrong,” and was in no way involved in the kidnapping that was charged.

John Cayanne refused the plea deal, and will be back in court on May 29 for a pre-preliminary hearing. Linn says their case against Cayanne is one of the strongest, and feels Cayanne is making a big mistake in not accepting the deal.

The remaining defendants have all agreed to accept the terms being offered by the D.A.’s Office, but Linn wants those backed up with written plea agreements, so those documents will be offered to the court on May 15. Linn says they are getting more severe consequences than the others because they were armed.

Judge Blea was very specific that even though the defendants were entering pleas, he could change the terms of any settlement negotiations at the time of sentencing.

The D.A.’s Office has been working with the defense attorneys over the past 10 days to get an agreement ironed out. One of the stumbling blocks was that all the defendants wanted to plead “no contest,” to which Linn would not agree.

“We could not allow that,” he said. “There are certain legal ramifications to that, and we wanted them to admit they did something wrong.”

Linn says he is satisfied with the results, and feels everything is moving toward resolution.

“It’s not over yet, but I feel good about the outcome,” said Linn. “I believe the bad guys, particularly Tex, got what they had coming. A felony conviction is serious, particularly considering Tex’s record, and I believe the people primarily responsible for the unlawful conduct will be sufficiently punished.”

Linn also expressed satisfaction with the plea deals arrived at with the lesser players.

“Those individuals that got caught up in the Indian Wars, so to speak, we’re not going to mess up the rest of their lives,” said Linn. “Many were honorably discharged veterans and former police officers, and that’s one of the reasons for the conditional pleas.”

Twelve of the defendants in the case have filed claims for damages with the County of Madera, saying that they were falsely arrested, and were acting within the scope of their jobs as tribal police at the time of the incident on Oct. 9, 2014. They assert that their arrests cost them loss of work and emotional distress, and each is asking for damages in excess of $1 million.

Deputy District Attorney Nicholas Fogg, who is prosecuting the criminal case, says the two issues are completely unrelated.

“We’re not allowed to use a criminal matter to resolve a civil matter, and these two cases are not linked in any way,” says Fogg.

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