A federal judge has ruled that three men who claim to be Indians and a fourth man who operates an arbitration business used fraudulent civil judgments to retaliate against officials in Uintah and Duchesne counties.
U.S. District Court Judge Stephen P. Friot ruled that James W. Burbank, Martin T. Campbell, Dale N. Stevens, and Thomas Smith used three organizations to try to intimidate government officials and extort money from them, in violation of the federal civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
Burbank, Campbell and Stevens all claim to be members of a group called the Wampanoag Nation, Tribe of Grayhead, Wolf Band. The group formed in 2003 in a Provo Arby's restaurant is not affiliated with the Massachusetts-based Wampanoag Tribe, which is federally-recognized.
Friot said the Arby's-founded Wampanoag tribe was used by Burbank, Campbell, and Stevens "as an instrument for the perpetration of fraud, for the purpose of attempting to commit extortion, and for the purpose of obstructing justice."
"As an Indian tribe, the Wampanoag Nation is a complete sham," the judge said, pointing to the fact that Stevens granted one man membership in the group because "he is a believer in fighting for liberty."
As for Smith, he is the presiding patriarch of The Order of the White Light, a corporation formed in Duchesne County in 2003 that also does business as the Western Arbitration Council.
Friot said Smith conspired with the other three men to create phony arbitration judgments against former Uintah County Sheriff Rick Hawkins, Uintah County Sheriff's Lt. John Laursen, Uintah County Attorney JoAnn Stringham, Duchesne County Justice Court Judge Clair Poulson, and Vernal City Attorney Clark McClellan.
Some of the judgments $250 million alone against Stringham were recorded with the central filing office of the Utah Division of Corporations. The recorded judgments harmed the personal credit of the individuals targeted by Burbank, Campbell, Stevens and Smith, the judge noted.
Friot's ruling came at the close of a two-day civil RICO trial that arose out of a 2004 lawsuit filed by Burbank against a litany of federal, state, and local agencies and officials. In the lawsuit, Burbank argued that his truck should not have been impounded by Laursen following a 2003 traffic stop in Uintah County because it was an "Indian licensed vehicle."
Laursen, Hawkins, and Stringham were among the individuals listed in Burbank's complaint as defendants in his civil suit. Attorneys for Uintah County filed a counterclaim against Burbank, Campbell, Stevens and Smith, arguing that the men's actions constituted civil RICO violations.
"I think this is the first time county law enforcement has used the federal racketeering statute to shut down a criminal enterprise," said Jesse Trentadue, who represented Uintah County in the case. "Apparently the way (Burbank, Campbell, Stevens and Smith) have treated people, it's a bit of comeuppance."
Friot was brought in from Oklahoma to hear the case after all of the federal judges in Utah recused themselves because they were listed in Burbank's lawsuit. He awarded the county $63,000 in damages and directed Trentadue to file a request for attorney's fees within 14 days. He also required Burbank and Stevens to sign releases for the arbitration judgments they'd filed with the state before leaving the courtroom.
When contacted on Friday for comment, Campbell, who uses the name Spirit Walker and maintains that he is still the chief of tribal law enforcement for the Wampanoag Nation, said Friot failed to understand that it was Stevens alone who chose retaliate against local officials with phony judgments.
"There's two individual groups here," Campbell said, claiming that the Wampanoags "dismissed" Stevens from the tribe in 2005. "We have nothing to do with Dale Stevens, but yet he keeps dragging us into this mess."
Campbell added that his group, which he said is seeking federal recognition, is in no way affiliated with the Order of the White Light or the Western Arbitration Council. He said his group's only goal is to offer a place where other unaffiliated individuals with American Indian heritage can come together and "take part ... in what we have been given under international law to maintain our culture."Campbell, Stevens, Burbank, and Smith could now face federal criminal charges. However, Friot's ruling that the four men had committed numerous violations of state and federal law including racketeering, mail fraud and conspiracy was based on a finding of the preponderance of the evidence. For a criminal conviction, prosecutors would have to prove any case against the men beyond a reasonable doubt.