Father of a Nation

As head of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, Kevin Gover single-handedly gave the Koi Nation land rights. Now, he's stepped through the revolving door to hawk the tribe's plans for a Bay Area casino.

Recalling several "uncomfortable" verbal exchanges with his former boss during Gover's last two days on the job, Fleming says, "His response was that he had the authority to do it, and he was going to do it."

Even now, little is known about the "sovereign nation" whose leaders want to build a casino that, they say, will provide 2,200 jobs and pump more than a billion dollars into the Bay Area economy. And that's precisely the way the tribe appears to prefer it.

The Koi, whose "office" is a mail drop at a UPS Store near Oakland's Lake Merritt, receive no money from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The tribe's finances are almost totally dependent on Ginsburg, the band's publicity-averse investor. His claim to fame before getting involved with several Indian tribes trying to enter the casino market was as one of the nation's largest developers of low-income housing. The man with whom Ginsburg ostensibly is doing business in Oakland, Daniel Beltran, is a former pickup-and-delivery courier. Beltran's brother, Dino, the tribal treasurer, used to manage a restaurant. For the past year they've been employed by East Bay Gaming, an entity Ginsburg set up to promote the casino.

Kevin Gover.
Courtesy of AP Wide World Photos
Kevin Gover.
Members of the Koi Nation with U.S. Interior Secretary 
Gale Norton in 2003. Norton is flanked by Daniel and 
Dino Beltran; tribal council member Carole Tapia is at 
the far left.
Members of the Koi Nation with U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton in 2003. Norton is flanked by Daniel and Dino Beltran; tribal council member Carole Tapia is at the far left.

Making the rounds with the Beltran brothers before civic and business groups and as they meet with elected officials is Ginsburg operative Rodney G. (Rod) Wilson, a Los Angeles-area public relations consultant. Wilson's business Web site lists him as the president and CEO of Pacific Research & Strategies, a Long Beach consulting business in which he is a partner with a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, although the state Department of Corporations shows the firm as suspended.

Holding the title of "community relations director" for the Koi Nation, Wilson functions as the tribe's handler. He escorts the Beltrans to public events; presides over a multimedia presentation about the casino before community groups; oversees press releases and op-ed pieces distributed under Daniel Beltran's name ("Casino's Ills Overstated, Benefits Ignored"); and steps in to rescue the tribal chair and his brother from sometimes hostile questions.

He's part of a team assigned to the Koi that, besides Gover, includes Harlan Goodson, a lawyer with the influential national firm of Holland & Knight and the former head of the California Division of Gambling Control; James McClurken, a University of Michigan ethnologist; Edward Castillo, a Native American studies professor at Sonoma State University; and a phalanx of local lobbyists and other operatives. Among them is Kathy Neal, the well-connected ex-wife of former Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris and a former Oakland Port commissioner.

Wilson carefully guards the tribe's exposure to the press. Last October, after Daniel Beltran agreed to a rare interview with the Weekly, Wilson showed up with the tribal leader and his brother at the restaurant where the interview was to take place and scuttled it. While Daniel and Dino Beltran sat impassively, Wilson inquired about why the newspaper wanted to write about the tribe. He then said he would "think about" the request, "and I'll get back to you." He never did. The Beltrans, Wilson, and the third member of the tribal council, Carole Tapia, all failed to respond to numerous phone calls seeking comment for this article.

Wilson also serves as chief explicator of the glitzy seven-story hotel, resort, and spa -- to be called Crystal Bay Resort -- whose 2,000 slot machines would be complemented by a 1,000-seat concert hall and up to five restaurants. It would be built on the marshy shores of San Leandro Bay, next to Martin Luther King Regional Shoreline, long a protected area for waterfowl. "For those who don't like to gamble, they can go and have a nice meal, go to the spa and get a nice massage, or just stay in the four-star hotel," he told a mostly hostile crowd of Alameda and San Leandro residents at a recent community meeting. "We believe we're creating a destination resort."

Anyone expecting to learn about the tribe creating that resort had to be disappointed.

"Can somebody from the Koi Nation explain how a person is qualified to be a member of the Koi tribe?" asked one man, during a question-and-answer session in which several people tried unsuccessfully to get the Beltrans to talk about the tribe. After huddling with the brothers, it was Wilson who spoke. "The question is regarding the membership of the tribe [sic] has been asked in a variety of ways," he said. "The simple answer is that the federal government recognized the tribe in the early 1900s. All the members today come from the original roll recognized by the federal government; [they are the] direct lineage of those first recognized as the Koi Nation."

Not content to let it go, a woman pressed Daniel Beltran to "give us some information about Koi Nation." His answer didn't take long. "We're one tribe. The members reside in Sonoma and Alameda counties. There are 53 [members]." He suggested that "if there are basic questions about the history of the tribe, you can see on [our] Web site."

But while it discusses the history of the Pomo people in general from thousands of years ago, the tribe's Web site (www.koination.com) says precious little about the Koi in modern times. Its leaders' "biographies" are similarly skimpy. Daniel Beltran is touted as having been "a student of the Koi Nation's history and culture" since his youth and as being "dedicated to reaching out to the greater community." But there are few other facts about him. Dino Beltran is described as "a seasoned professional" who has "held senior management positions in the hospitality and retail industries," with no mention as to where or for whom. About all that's to be learned about Carole Tapia is that she is "a mother and grandmother" who "brings many decades of experience and wisdom" to the tribal council.

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